In my previous post, I noted the presence of talking birds in Thomas Hardy's poetry. I would be remiss if I failed to mention that one comes across a few talking dogs as well. Hardy's own dog -- "Wessex" -- has his say in two poems: "A Popular Personage at Home" ("I am a dog known rather well") and "Dead 'Wessex' the Dog to the Household" ("Do you think of me at all,/Wistful ones?").
The following poem consists of a conversation between a dog and a dead woman who lies in her grave. In addition to becoming accustomed to encountering voluble birds and dogs in Hardy's poetry, one comes to expect an occasional word or two from those who have been laid away in their graves: conversations among the dead about the living (as well as between the dead and the living) take place fairly often in Hardy's poems. The dead seem to be good company: they are often jolly, and they are apt to offer a helpful perspective on life for those of us who remain above ground.
Ah, Are You Digging On My Grave?
'Ah, are you digging on my grave,
My loved one? -- planting rue?'
-- 'No: yesterday he went to wed
One of the brightest wealth has bred.
"It cannot hurt her now," he said,
"That I should not be true."'
'Then who is digging on my grave?
My nearest dearest kin?'
-- 'Ah, no: they sit and think, "What use!
What good will planting flowers produce?
No tendance of her mound can loose
Her spirit from Death's gin."'
'But some one digs upon my grave?
My enemy? -- prodding sly?'
-- 'Nay: when she heard you had passed the Gate
That shuts on all flesh soon or late,
She thought you no more worth her hate,
And cares not where you lie.'
'Then, who is digging on my grave?
Say -- since I have not guessed!'
-- 'O it is I, my mistress dear,
Your little dog, who still lives near,
And much I hope my movements here
Have not disturbed your rest?'
'Ah, yes! You dig upon my grave. . . .
Why flashed it not on me
That one true heart was left behind!
What feeling do we ever find
To equal among human kind
A dog's fidelity!'
'Mistress, I dug upon your grave
To bury a bone, in case
I should be hungry near this spot
When passing on my daily trot.
I am sorry, but I quite forgot
It was your resting-place.'
Thomas Hardy, Satires of Circumstance, Lyrics and Reveries (1914).
Hardy has sometimes been criticized for his rustic sense of humor and for his quaint (in the judgment of "modernists") view of things. In other words: "Who writes poems about talking dogs and talking corpses in this day and age?" I suppose that the avant-garde had -- and have -- no time for Hardy, and for poems such as this. For that, we can all be thankful.
As for me, Hardy the poet can do no wrong. As I have noted before, I agree with Philip Larkin who, in response to critics who suggest that Hardy wrote too many poems, of which a large number are (according to the critics) flawed, writes:
"To these . . . gentlemen . . . may I trumpet the assurance that one reader at least would not wish Hardy's Collected Poems a single page shorter, and regards it as many times over the best body of poetic work this century so far has to show."
Philip Larkin, "Wanted: Good Hardy Critic" (1966), in Required Writing: Miscellaneous Pieces 1955-1982 (Faber and Faber 1983), page 174.
Larkin offered his assessment in 1966. It proved to be true for the century as a whole.