The passage of time is an ever-present theme in the poetry of Thomas Hardy. Thus, for instance, Hardy often ponders the way in which natural and man-made objects stand as mute witnesses to the comings and goings of human beings. Old furniture, wood floors, cathedral facades, rain-worn (of course!) tombstones, sun-dials, waterfalls, trees . . .
At Day-Close in November
The ten hours' light is abating,
And a late bird wings across,
Where the pines, like waltzers waiting,
Give their black heads a toss.
Beech leaves, that yellow the noon-time,
Float past like specks in the eye;
I set every tree in my June time,
And now they obscure the sky.
And the children who ramble through here
Conceive that there never has been
A time when no tall trees grew here,
That none will in time be seen.
Thomas Hardy, Satires of Circumstance, Lyrics and Reveries, with Miscellaneous Pieces (1914).
It has been suggested that the trees referred to in the poem are the trees that Hardy planted around Max Gate, the house that he built at Dorchester in Dorset. When Hardy and his first wife Emma moved into the house, the land surrounding it was mostly bare of trees. J. O. Bailey, The Poetry of Thomas Hardy: A Handbook and Commentary (University of North Carolina Press 1970), page 291.
According to The Early Life of Thomas Hardy (the authorship of which was credited to Hardy's second wife Florence, but which was in fact mostly written by Hardy): "Some two or three thousand small trees, mostly Austrian pines, were planted around the house by Hardy himself, and in later years these grew so thickly that the house was almost entirely screened from the road, and finally appeared, in summer, as if at the bottom of a dark green well of trees."
The following poem is about Hardy's planting of the trees for Emma.
'The house is bleak and cold
Built so new for me!
All the winds upon the wold
Search it through for me;
No screening trees abound,
And the curious eyes around,
Keep on view for me.'
'My Love, I am planting trees
As a screen for you
Both from winds, and eyes that tease
And peer in for you.
Only wait till they have grown,
No such bower will be known
As I mean for you.'
'Then I will bear it, Love,
And will wait,' she said.
-- So, with years, there grew a grove.
'Skill how great!' she said.
'As you wished, Dear?' -- 'Yes, I see!
But -- I'm dying; and for me
'Tis too late,' she said.
Thomas Hardy, Moments of Vision and Miscellaneous Verses (1917).
"Yews In Mardale Church Yard Before Destruction" (c. 1945)
In a note to the poem, J. O. Bailey suggests that the source of the poem's title may be the proverb "Everything comes to he who waits," and that the applicability of the proverb in this instance is sadly ironic since Emma died before the trees grew to their fullest. (J. O. Bailey, The Poetry of Thomas Hardy: A Handbook and Commentary, page 401.) This is the sort of irony that would never be lost on Hardy.
An aside: the image of a "bleak and cold" new house in which "All the winds upon the wold/Search it through for me" brings to mind Edward Thomas's "The New House," which I have posted here previously. It begins:
Now first, as I shut the door,
I was alone
In the new house; and the wind
Began to moan.