But, then, they are not random after all, are they? There is a reason for their clarity, their tug and pull. I suspect that most of us know quite well the buried emotions that these revenants carry with them. Speaking solely for myself, I have become adept at not going down the turning paths that lead to these all-too-clear vales of memory. Why? Nothing dire or secretive. Merely something along these lines:
I know not how, but as I count
The beads of former years,
Old laughter catches in my throat
With the very feel of tears.
Robert Louis Stevenson, New Poems and Variant Readings (1918).
An unacceptable and cowardly excuse, I know. One ought to view the survival of emotions -- both good and bad -- as a treasure. And I do, I do. Yet . . .
Benjamin Leader, "Betws-y-Coed Church" (1863)
To a large extent, Thomas Hardy's poetry is an exercise in the recovery and recounting of the past. One gets the feeling that he spent much of his life inhabiting the past -- actually reliving it. He wrote of himself: "I believe it would be said by people who knew me well that I have a faculty (possibly not uncommon) for burying an emotion in my heart or brain for forty years, and exhuming it at the end of that time as fresh as when interred." Thomas Hardy, The Life and Work of Thomas Hardy (edited by Michael Millgate) (Macmillan 1985), page 408. One can thus understand why Hardy's poems concerning incidents from his past bear such immediacy and emotion. One suspects this was both a blessing and a curse.
It happened once, before the duller
Loomings of life defined them,
I searched for slates of greenish colour
A quarry where men mined them;
And saw, the while I peered around there,
In the quarry standing
A form against the slate background there,
Of fairness eye-commanding.
And now, though fifty years have flown me,
With all their dreams and duties,
And strange-pipped dice my hand has thrown me,
And dust are all her beauties,
Green slates -- seen high on roofs, or lower
In waggon, truck, or lorry --
Cry out: "Our home was where you saw her
Standing in the quarry!"
Thomas Hardy, Human Shows, Far Phantasies, Songs, and Trifles (1925).
Benjamin Leader, "On The Llugwy Below Capel Curig" (1903)
The moments of which I speak are notable for their ostensible ordinariness. Yet, even as they occur, we often have an inkling that something has clicked, that we have arrived at a moment out of time that will for ever be with us.
Sometimes, when walls and occupation seem
A prison merely, a dark barrier
Between me everywhere
And life, or the larger province of the mind,
As dreams confined,
As the trouble of a dream,
I seek to make again a life long gone,
My mind's approach and consolation,
To give it form's lucidity,
Resilient form, as porcelain pieces thrown
In buried China by a wrist unknown,
Or mirrored brigs upon Fowey sea.
Then to my memory comes nothing great
Of purpose, or debate,
Or perfect end,
Pomp, nor love's rapture, nor heroic hours to spend --
But most, and strangely, for long and so much have I seen,
Comes back an afternoon
Of a June
Sunday at Elsfield, that is up on a green
Hill, and there,
Through a little farm parlour door,
Of red tiles and blue,
And the air
Sweet with the hot June sun cascading through
The vine-leaves under the glass, and a scarlet fume
Of geranium flower, and soft and yellow bloom
Of musk, and stains of scarlet and yellow glass.
Such are the things remain
Quietly, and for ever, in the brain,
And the things that they choose for history-making pass.
John Drinkwater, Loyalties (1922).
Benjamin Leader, "Haymaking" (1876)
The following poem has appeared here before, but it is worth revisiting, for it captures perfectly what I am (inarticulately) trying to get at.
Now I remember nothing of our love
So well as the crushed bracken and the wings
Of doves among dim branches far above --
Strange how the count of time revalues things!
Patrick MacDonogh, Poems (edited by Derek Mahon) (The Gallery Press 2001).
Benjamin Leader, "At Evening Time It Shall Be Light" (1897)
I suggested above that Thomas Hardy "spent much of his life inhabiting the past." This was not, however, a matter of escapism into a happier world. Sometimes, perhaps, it was: for instance, when he was recalling his younger years with his family. Much of the time, however, he was revisiting loss.
(Song: Minor Mode)
'Twas just at gnat and cobweb-time,
When yellow begins to show in the leaf,
That your old gamut changed its chime
From those true tones -- of span so brief! --
That met my beats of joy, of grief,
As rhyme meets rhyme.
So sank I from my high sublime!
We faced but chancewise after that,
And never I knew or guessed my crime. . . .
Yes; 'twas the date -- or nigh thereat --
Of the yellowing leaf; at moth and gnat
Thomas Hardy, Late Lyrics and Earlier, with Many Other Verses (1922).
"At moth and gnat and cobweb-time." Lines such as this remind us that, at heart, Hardy was, and always remained, a countryman. Time and again in his poetry we experience this interrelationship between the particulars of the seasons and the playing out of human destiny. But not in a manipulative sense. The two worlds move forward in their own courses. At times, they are indifferent to, and separate from, one another. At other times, they are entirely intertwined. But Hardy's vision was capacious and all-encompassing: he could not imagine the one without the other. Thus, remembering a loss, cobweb-time came to mind. When yellow begins to show in the leaf.
Benjamin Leader, "Quiet Valley Among The Welsh Hills" (1860)