Saturday, June 29, 2013

"All That I Loved I Love Anew, Now Parting Draweth Near"

"You're only as old as you feel."  Well, yes.  Like most old saws, this statement is probably true.  As it relates to one's mental state, one hopes that it is accurate.  And as to one's physical state, I'm afraid that it is pretty much on the money.  Mind you, I'm not one to complain about the aging process -- what's the use? -- but these creaking and aching joints . . . they must signify something.

But, again, what's one to do?  There's no stopping The March Of Time, and I've always thought that technological interventions of a cosmetic sort are both unavailing and demeaning.  But the mind is another thing entirely, or so one hopes.  Ever fresher -- and never querulous -- is something to aim for.

        'The Years O'

The days are drawing in,
A casual leaf falls.
They sag -- the heroic walls;
Bloomless the wrinkled skin
Your firm delusions filled.
What once was all to build
Now you shall underpin.

The day has fewer hours,
The hours have less to show
For what you toil at now
Than when long life was yours
To cut and come again,
To ride on a loose rein --
A youth's unbroken years.

Far back, through wastes of ennui
The child you were plods on,
Hero and simpleton
Of his own timeless story,
Yet sure that somewhere beyond
Mirage and shifting sand
A real self must be.

Is it a second childhood,
No wiser than the first,
That we so rage and thirst
For some unchangeable good?
Should not a wise man laugh
At desires that are only proof
Of slackening flesh and blood?

Faster though time will race
As the blood runs more slow,
Another force we know:
Fiercer through narrowing days
Leaps the impetuous jet,
And tossing a dancer's head
Taller it grows in grace.

C. Day Lewis, Pegasus and Other Poems (1957).

The title of the poem comes from a recurring refrain in Thomas Hardy's "During Wind and Rain."  In the first stanza:  "Ah, no; the years O!/How the sick leaves reel down in throngs!"  And, in the third stanza:  "Ah, no; the years O!/And the rotten rose is ript from the wall."

Norman Clark (1913-1992), "From an Upstairs Window" (c. 1969)

In fact, another poem of Hardy's provides a fine complement to Day Lewis's poem.

    I Look Into My Glass

I look into my glass,
And view my wasting skin,
And say, 'Would God it came to pass
My heart had shrunk as thin!'

For then, I, undistrest
By hearts grown cold to me,
Could lonely wait my endless rest
With equanimity.

But Time, to make me grieve,
Part steals, lets part abide;
And shakes this fragile frame at eve
With throbbings of noontide.

Thomas Hardy, Wessex Poems and Other Verses (1898).

A classic Hardyesque mixed blessing:  the flesh may fail, but the heart and the mind . . .

Norman Clark, "View over the Village of Hurstpierpoint"

Finally, the following poem provides, I think, an unillusioned yet hopeful way to approach these things.

                    The Rapids

Grieve must my heart.  Age hastens by.
No longing can stay Time's torrent now.
Once would the sun in eastern sky
Pause on the solemn mountain's brow.
Rare flowers he still to bloom may bring,
But day approaches evening;
And ah, how swift their withering!

The birds, that used to sing, sang then
As if in an eternal day;
Ev'n sweeter yet their grace notes, when
Farewell . . . farewell is theirs to say.
Yet, as a thorn its drop of dew
Treasures in shadow, crystal clear,
All that I loved I love anew,
        Now parting draweth near.

Walter de la Mare, The Burning-Glass and Other Poems (1945).

Norman Clark, "Flying Kites by a Gas Works near Bexhill"

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Lot 96 And Lot 304: "The Ghost Dogs In The Vanishing Gardens"

Here is a sobering and, perhaps, tristful thought:  what will an idle browser think of your life as he or she peruses the items in your estate sale?  What will the detritus of your life tell them about you?

For example, one of my prized possessions is the 1976 edition of The Complete Poems of Thomas Hardy (edited by James Gibson):  the first edition of Hardy's poetry to collect all of his poems in a single book.  I don't usually write in my books.  However, I decided to make an exception for this volume.  It seemed to me that the book would be with me until my dying day, and, given the number of poems in the book -- 947 -- I wanted to check them off as I read them, so that I could keep track of my progress.  In addition, over the years I have nearly filled the endpapers of the book with words from the poems for which I have written out definitions.

Or, consider this:  an egg of green alabaster acquired in an antique store in a Cotswold village on an autumn day in 1986.  Or this:  a baseball signed by members of the 1967 Minnesota Twins (Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva, Rod Carew, Dean Chance, and others), purchased for me by my grandfather during a game at Metropolitan Stadium in the summer of that year.

You know what I mean.

John Aldridge, "Still Life" (1958)

                              Lot 96

Lot 96:  a brass-rimmed ironwork fender.
It had stood guard for years, where it used to belong,
Over the hearth of a couple who loved tenderly.
Now it will go for a song.

Night upon winter night, as she gossiped with him
Or was silent, he watched the talkative firelight send
Its reflections twittering over that burnished rim
Like a language of world without end.

Death, which unclasped their hearts, dismantled all.
The world they made is as if it had never been true --
That firelit bubble of warmth, serene, magical,
Ageless in form and hue.

Now there stands, dulled in an auction room,
This iron thing -- a far too durable irony,
Reflecting never a ghost of the lives that illumed it,
No hint of the sacred fire.

This lot was part of their precious bond, almost
A property of its meaning.  Here, in the litter
Washed up by death, values are re-assessed
At a nod from the highest bidder.

C. Day Lewis, Pegasus and Other Poems (1957).

George Clausen (1852-1944), "The Chinese Pot"

     Lot 304: Various Books

There are always lives
Left between the leaves
Scattering as I dust
The honeymoon edelweiss
Pressed ferns from prayer-books
Seed lists and hints on puddings
Deprecatory letters from old cousins
Proposing to come for Easter
And always clouded negatives
The ghost dogs in the vanishing gardens:

Fading ephemera of non-events,
Whoever owned it
(Dead or cut adrift or homeless in a home)
Nothing to me, a number, or if a name
Then meaningless,
Yet always as I touch a current flows,
The poles connect, the wards latch into place,
A life extends me --
Love-hate; grief; faith; wonder;

Joan Barton, The Mistress and Other Poems (1972).

Thomas Henslow Barnard (1898-1992), "Still Life"

Sunday, June 23, 2013


I first encountered the word "bourne" in the title of a poem by Christina Rossetti.  I had no idea what it meant, but I immediately felt that it was a lovely word.  There was something about the look and the sound and the feel of it that was restful and peaceful.  It conveyed a sense of repose.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word -- in the sense used by Rossetti -- as follows:  "The limit or terminus of a race, journey, or course; the ultimate point aimed at, or to which anything tends; destination, goal."

I recently came across the word again in a poem by Walter de la Mare.

                       The Bourne

Rebellious heart, why still regret so much
A destiny which all that's mortal shares?
Surely the solace of the grave is such
That there naught matters; and, there, no one cares?

Nor faith, nor love, nor dread, nor closest friend
Can from this nearing bourne your footfall keep:
But there even conflict with your self shall end,
And every grief be reconciled in Sleep.

Walter de la Mare, O Lovely England and Other Poems (1953).

John Nash, "Avoncliffe: from the Aqueduct"

The word brings to mind a passage from one of my favorite books.

"I always turn out of my way to walk through a country churchyard; these rural resting-places are as attractive to me as a town cemetery is repugnant. I read the names upon the stones, and find a deep solace in thinking that for all these the fret and the fear of life are over.  There comes to me no touch of sadness; whether it be a little child or an aged man, I have the same sense of happy accomplishment; the end having come, and with it the eternal peace, what matter if it came late or soon?  There is no such gratulation as Hic jacet.  There is no such dignity as that of death.  In the path trodden by the noblest of mankind these have followed; that which of all who live is the utmost thing demanded, these have achieved. I cannot sorrow for them, but the thought of their vanished life moves me to a brotherly tenderness.  The dead, amid this leafy silence, seem to whisper encouragement to him whose fate yet lingers:  As we are, so shalt thou be; and behold our quiet!"

George Gissing, The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft (1903), pages 183-184.

The OED defines "gratulation" as "manifestation or expression of joy; a rejoicing," or "a feeling of gratification, joy, or exultation; rejoicing in heart."  Another sense (designated as obsolete) is "reward, recompense."

John Nash, "Wakes Colne Mill, Colchester, Essex" (1931)

Here is the poem in which I first discovered "bourne."

                 The Bourne

Underneath the growing grass,
     Underneath the living flowers,
     Deeper than the sound of showers:
     There we shall not count the hours
By the shadows as they pass.

Youth and health will be but vain,
     Beauty reckoned of no worth:
     There a very little girth
     Can hold round what once the earth
Seemed too narrow to contain.

Christina Rossetti, The Prince's Progress and Other Poems (1866).

John Nash, "Rocks and Water" (c. 1950)

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Perspective, Part Nine: "Almost Human"

Is it possible to look at yourself objectively?  To see yourself for who you are?  Speaking for myself, I have my doubts.  Still, I like to think that I am more optimistic about the possibility than, say, La Rochefoucauld, who offers this uncharitable (but, alas, likely true) insight about us:

"Whatever discovery was made in the country of self-love, many unknown lands remain there still."

La Rochefoucauld, Maxims (1678), translated by Stuart Warner and Stephane Douard (St. Augustine's Press 2001).

Yes, as I survey the public world around us -- politicians, bureaucrats, social scientists, media mouthpieces and the lot -- I know all too well what La Rochefoucauld means.  No shortage of self-love and misplaced self-assurance there.  And no evidence of self-awareness or self-reflection either.

William Ratcliffe, "Cottage Interior" (1920)

The first tiny step is not to think that you are any different.  I have quoted Czeslaw Milosz on this topic in the past, and he bears repeating:


To believe you are magnificent.  And gradually to discover that you are not magnificent.  Enough labor for one human life.

Czeslaw Milosz, Road-side Dog (translated by Czeslaw Milosz and Robert Hass) (Farrar, Straus and Giroux 1998).

William Ratcliffe, "The Conservatory Window"

                Almost Human

The man you know, assured and kind,
Wearing fame like an old tweed suit --
You would not think he has an incurable
Sickness upon his mind.

Finely that tongue, for the listening people,
Articulates love, enlivens clay;
While under his valued skin there crawls
An outlaw and a cripple.

Unenviable the renown he bears
When all's awry within?  But a soul
Divinely sick may be immunized
From the scourge of common cares.

A woman weeps, a friend's betrayed,
Civilization plays with fire --
His grief or guilt is easily purged
In a rush of words to the head.

The newly dead, and their waxwork faces
With the look of things that could never have lived,
He'll use to prime his cold, strange heart
And prompt the immortal phrases.

Before you condemn this eminent freak
As an outrage upon mankind,
Reflect:  something there is in him
That must for ever seek

To share the condition it glorifies,
To shed the skin that keeps it apart,
To bury its grace in a human bed --
And it walks on knives, on knives.

C. Day Lewis, Pegasus and Other Poems (1957).

William Ratcliffe, "Attic Room" (1918)

Monday, June 17, 2013

By The Sea, Part Two: "So Of The Soul"

By happenstance I have lived beside salt water since the age of eleven:  the Pacific Ocean (to the west, with the exception of one year in Japan), Puget Sound (a meandering inland arm of the Pacific), and the Indian Ocean (for two years).  I've become accustomed to having an expanse of blue or grey at my shoulder.

Don't get me wrong:  I love the nearly waterless wide-openness of, say, the high desert of Utah and Arizona and New Mexico or the plains of the Midwest ("amber waves of grain" is quite accurate).  And one of the finest drives I have ever taken was along the green-walled and green-vaulted Natchez Trace Parkway from Natchez on the Mississippi River to the outskirts of Nashville.

But there is something about having water out on the horizon.  "The sea is a mirror, not only to the clouds, the sun, the moon, and the stars, but to all one's dreams, to all one's speculations. . . . The sea tells us that everything is changing and that nothing ever changes, that tides go out and return, that all existence is a rhythm."  Arthur Symons, "In a Northern Bay," Cities and Sea-Coasts and Islands, (1918), page 296.

Robert Lee, "Whitby Harbour" (1951)

                         By the Sea

In tottering row, like shadows, silently
The old pier-timbers struggle from the sea;
Strained in old storms by those wild waves that creep
So gently now, no longer do they keep
The pier that on them rested long ago,
But stand as driven piles in tottering row.
The sky sails downward, upward creeps the wave,
For countless clouds toward the sun's bright grave
Move curiously with grey and misty wing;
So thickly all the sky environing,
That only by one pale bright spot is known
Where still the sunken light is upward thrown,
And lately sunk the weary king of day:
Still on the sands below in stealthy play
Arise the billows of the nightly tide;
Each with its own clear layer doth override
The spreaded calm where its last brother rolled;
Each upon other rippling draws the fold
Of its thin edge along the soaked sand,
And stirs the spongy foam 'twixt sea and land,
And lifts the dark waifs higher on the shore.
Yet in this quietness resides the roar
Of ocean floods; one rising of that wind,
And those slow clouds would leave the night behind
In bitter clearness; those cold waves would roll
In snarling billows white.  So of the soul.

Richard Watson Dixon, Historical Poems and Other Odes (1864).

William Edward Wigley (1880-1943), "Mevagissey Quay, Cornwall"

"The sea is austere, implacable, indifferent; it has nothing to tell us; it is an eternal question. . . . Yet, as ecstasy is only possible to one who is conscious of the possibility of despair, so the sea, as it detaches us from the world and our safeguards and our happy forgetfulnesses, and sets us by ourselves, as momentary as the turn of a wave, and mattering hardly more to the universe, gives us, if we will take them, moments of almost elemental joy."  Arthur Symons, Ibid, page 297.

                    By the Sea

Why does the sea moan evermore?
     Shut out from heaven it makes its moan,
It frets against the boundary shore;
     All earth's full rivers cannot fill
     The sea, that drinking thirsteth still.

Sheer miracles of loveliness
     Lie hid in its unlooked-on bed:
Anemones, salt, passionless,
     Blow flower-like; just enough alive
     To blow and multiply and thrive.

Shells quaint with curve, or spot, or spike,
     Encrusted live things argus-eyed,
All fair alike, yet all unlike,
     Are born without a pang, and die
     Without a pang, and so pass by.

Christina Rossetti, Goblin Market, The Prince's Progress and Other Poems (1875).

"Blow" (line 10) is used in the sense of "to blossom, bloom."  OED.  Its use in line 9 could be either to bloom or "to move before the wind" (or, in this case, the underwater currents).

Kenneth Roberts (1932-1995), "Souvenir of Istria"

Friday, June 14, 2013

Perspective, Part Eight: "Remember Then That Also We, In A Moon's Course, Are History"

Today I saw a tall white and grey thunderhead moving across a blue sky.  It was a lovely sight.  I felt peaceful looking at it.  It is nice to know that thunderheads will be moving across a blue sky as long as I am here and long after I am gone.  At times, it all seems to make perfect sense, this passing and vanishing.


When you deliberate the page
Of Alexander's pilgrimage,
Or say -- "It is three years, or ten,
Since Easter slew Connolly's men,"
Or prudently to judgment come
Of Antony or Absalom,
And think how duly are designed
Case and instruction for the mind,
Remember then that also we,
In a moon's course, are history.

John Drinkwater (1882-1937), Loyalties (1919).

"Easter slew Connolly's men" refers to the Easter Rising of 1916 in Ireland, and the subsequent execution of James Connolly and other participants.

William Rothenstein (1872-1945), "South-west Wind"


I saw history in a poet's song,
In a river-reach and a gallows-hill,
In a bridal bed, and a secret wrong,
In a crown of thorns:  in a daffodil.

I imagined measureless time in a day,
And starry space in a wagon-road,
And the treasure of all good harvests lay
In the single seed that the sower sowed.

My garden-wind had driven and havened again
All ships that ever had gone to sea,
And I saw the glory of all dead men
In the shadow that went by the side of me.

John Drinkwater, Poems 1908-1914 (1917).

William Rothenstein, "Barn at Cherington, Gloucestershire" (1935)

Now, some might think that these two poems are commonplace observations by a little-known Georgian poet.  But consider this:

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.

An argument can be made that these lines are a somewhat prosy and less mellifluous version of what Drinkwater is getting at in "Passage" and "Symbols."  The lines come from T. S. Eliot's "Burnt Norton," which was written in 1935.  Thus, Drinkwater visited the same territory nearly 20 years in advance of Eliot.  He didn't go on about the subject as long as Eliot does in "Burnt Norton," but I'm not willing to say that Drinkwater's poems are less lovely than Eliot's poem.  "Burnt Norton" is definitely more grandiose, which may or may not be a good thing.  There is something to be said for economy.

William Rothenstein, "Nature's Ramparts" (1908)

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Perspective, Part Seven: "What's Little June To A Great Broken World . . . What's The Broken World To June"?

The following poem was written by Charlotte Mew when the enormity of the First World War had begun to sink in, particularly after the First and Second Battles of Ypres in the autumn of 1914 and the spring of 1915.  The first six lines are a moving evocation of the "grief" and "dread" of that time. But the final two lines turn the poem into something else entirely -- without minimizing that grief and dread.

                              June, 1915

Who thinks of June's first rose to-day?
        Only some child, perhaps, with shining eyes and rough bright hair will
                     reach it down
In a green sunny lane, to us almost as far away
        As are the fearless stars from these veiled lamps of town.
What's little June to a great broken world with eyes gone dim
From too much looking on the face of grief, the face of dread?
        Or what's the broken world to June and him
Of the small eager hand, the shining eyes, the rough bright head?

Charlotte Mew, The Rambling Sailor (1929).  The second line is a single line, but does not appear as such due to margin limitations.

The phrases "What's little June to a great broken world" and "what's the broken world to June" are marvelous in and of themselves.  But the transformation that takes place during the movement from the first phrase to the second and onward to the close of the poem is remarkable.

John Linnell, "The Windmill" (1844)

As I have noted before, Thomas Hardy was a great admirer of Charlotte Mew's poetry.  He, along with John Masefield and Walter de la Mare, took the initiative to obtain a Civil List Pension for her due to her lack of financial resources.  After learning that she had been awarded the Pension, she wrote a letter to Hardy thanking him for his efforts.  The letter reads, in part:

"It seems so generous -- unreasonable -- when -- from head to feet . . . I know myself to be unworthy of it.  I owe it to the amazing kindness of friends to most of whom I am practically a stranger -- and to the weight of great names -- with yours coming first.  I am told that I ought to be proud that you should have spoken for me -- indeed I ought -- But pride -- in that sense -- with me (I hope you will understand) -- is a sort of surprise and confusion -- a humbling but a touching thing.  What I do feel is gratitude and entire unworthiness.  And you will believe that I thank you from my heart."

Letter from Charlotte Mew to Thomas Hardy (January 1, 1924), in Betty Falkenberg, "A Letter from Charlotte Mew," PN Review, Volume 32, Number 3 (2006).

John Linnell, "Reapers, Noonday Rest" (1865)

There are interesting parallels between the final two lines of Mew's "June, 1915" and Hardy's "In Time of 'The Breaking of Nations'."  Hardy's poem was first published in January of 1916.  However, it was written (according to the date appended to it by Hardy) in 1915.  Thus, Mew and Hardy were thinking similar thoughts, and putting them to paper, in the same dispiriting year.  And both of them were able to pull off a difficult-to-achieve trick:  placing things into a timeless perspective without slighting the ghastliness of what was currently taking place, and without abandoning empathy for those who were immediately affected by that ghastliness.

  In Time of 'The Breaking of Nations'

Only a man harrowing clods
     In a slow silent walk
With an old horse that stumbles and nods
     Half asleep as they stalk.

Only thin smoke without flame
     From the heaps of couch-grass;
Yet this will go onward the same
     Though Dynasties pass.

Yonder a maid and her wight
     Come whispering by:
War's annals will cloud into night
     Ere their story die.


Thomas Hardy, Moments of Vision and Miscellaneous Verses (1917).

John Linnell, "Harvest Home, Sunset: The Last Load" (1853)

Saturday, June 8, 2013

June. Lost Love.

Charlotte Mew was unlucky in love, and this is often reflected (obliquely) in her poetry.  One senses the depth of her disappointment, but self-pity is not evident.  She stoically moves forward.  Or is she whistling in the dark?  And there is something else -- the future, ultimate thing that we all shall come to -- that insistently sidles along beside her, often seeming to be of comfort.

                    From a Window

        Up here, with June, the sycamore throws
        Across the window a whispering screen;
    I shall miss the sycamore more, I suppose,
Than anything else on this earth that is out in green.
        But I mean to go through the door without fear,
        Not caring much what happens here
                        When I'm away: --
How green the screen is across the panes
        Or who goes laughing along the lanes
    With my old lover all the summer day.

Charlotte Mew, The Rambling Sailor (1929.

The "whispering screen" of the sycamore is beautiful, as is the subsequent "how green the screen is across the panes."  Note the equivocation of "not caring much what happens here" in line 6.  Writing "sycamore more" (line 3) is a risky move, isn't it?

Geoffrey Scowcroft Fletcher (1923-2004), "Flint Castle" (1996)

"From a Window" is reminiscent of two other poems by Mew -- poems without the ever-present shadow so close at hand.

          I So Liked Spring

    I so liked Spring last year
        Because you were here; --
            The thrushes too --
Because it was these you so liked to hear --
            I so liked you --

        This year's a different thing, --
            I'll not think of you --
But I'll like Spring because it is simply Spring
            As the thrushes do.

Charlotte Mew, Ibid.

Geoffrey Scowcroft Fletcher, "Pumpkin Field"

                            Sea Love

Tide be runnin' the great world over;
          T'was only last June-month, I mind, that we
Was thinkin' the toss and the call in the breast of the lover
          So everlastin' as the sea.

Heer's the same little fishes that sputter and swim
          Wi' the moon's old glim on the grey, wet sand
An' him no more to me nor me to him
          Than the wind goin' over my hand.

Charlotte Mew, The Farmer's Bride (1921 edition).

The rhythm of the sea can be felt in "the toss and the call in the breast of the lover" in line 3.  The final two lines are sad and true and perfect:  stoic and resigned, but still with that hint of whistling in the dark.  "The wind goin' over my hand" is particularly lovely, I think.

Geoffery Scowcroft Fletcher, "Sea Palling, Norfolk"

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

"A Mind Content Both Crown And Kingdom Is"

In the Elizabethan Age, what people longed for was "content" (as in "contentment"), not happiness.  This makes perfect sense.  Happiness is overpromoted and overrated.

One of the founding principles of the country in which I live is that human beings have an "unalienable right" to "the pursuit of happiness."  Thomas Jefferson was wise, but with a practical bent (he was not a utopian dreamer):  it is the "pursuit" of happiness that is an unalienable right, not happiness itself.  Alas, a great many of my fellow Americans believe that they are entitled to be "happy."  Whether they have ever read, or heard of, the Declaration of Independence (and whether they know who Thomas Jefferson is) I will not venture to say.

In any event, "content" seems gentler, calmer, quieter, more reflective, and  -- one hopes -- more attainable than "happiness."

Stanley Roy Badmin, "Bow Brickhill, Bletchley" (1940)

For a start, here is one way of looking at our options.

Were I a king I could command content.
     Were I obscure, unknown should be my cares.
And were I dead, no thoughts should me torment,
     Nor words, nor wrongs, nor loves, nor hopes, nor fears.
A doubtful choice, of three things one to crave,
A kingdom, or a cottage, or a grave.

Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford (1550-1604), in Norman Ault (editor), Elizabethan Lyrics (1949).

Stanley Roy Badmin, "Storm over Pole Hill, Kent"

Well, then, a cottage it is.

In crystal towers and turrets richly set
     With glittering gems that shine against the sun,
In regal rooms of jasper and of jet,
     Content of mind not always likes to wone;
But oftentimes it pleaseth her to stay
In simple cotes closed in with walls of clay.

Geoffrey Whitney (1548-1601), Ibid.

"Wone" (line 4) is defined by the OED as "to stay habitually, dwell, live." The "walls of clay" of the "simple cotes" in the final line bring to mind Yeats's "And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made" from "The Lake Isle of Innisfree."

Stanley Roy Badmin
"Flooded Meadows at Olney, Buckinghamshire" (1940)

Here is a lengthier consideration of what content consists of.

Sweet are the thoughts that savour of content;
     The quiet mind is richer than a crown;
Sweet are the nights in careless slumber spent;
     The poor estate scorns fortune's angry frown:
Such sweet content, such minds, such sleep, such bliss,
Beggars enjoy, when princes oft do miss.

The homely house that harbours quiet rest;
     The cottage that affords no pride nor care;
The mean that 'grees with country music best;
     The sweet consort of mirth and music's fare;
Obscured life sets down a type of bliss:
A mind content both crown and kingdom is.

Robert Greene (1558-1592), Ibid.

I particularly like the lovely alliteration and assonance of "the homely house that harbours quiet rest" and "sweet are the nights in careless slumber spent."  And the idea of attaining "a type of bliss" (a fine phrase) by living an obscure life is very nice.

Stanley Roy Badmin, "Stoke Bruerne, Northamptonshire" (1940)

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Thomas Hardy At 173

Thomas Hardy was born on this date 173 years ago.  The year 1840 seems to belong to a long-lost world.  Wordsworth was still alive and writing poetry.  For some reason, it occurs to me that, in 1840, Abraham Lincoln was a 31-year-old lawyer in Illinois.  Imagine that:  Thomas Hardy and Abraham Lincoln and William Wordsworth were all alive at the same time. (It certainly makes our age seem paltry, doesn't it?  But that's another story.)

On the other hand, however, Hardy seems very close to us.  He died less than a 100 years ago -- in 1928, which doesn't seem so far away.  The living veterans of World War II were born before Hardy's death.  And think of this:  Philip Larkin was six-years-old when Hardy died.

Now, that is a wonderful piece of poetic continuity:  the lives of William Wordsworth and Thomas Hardy and Philip Larkin overlapped one another.

John Everett, "Maumbury Rings, Dorchester, Dorset" (1924)

     Birthday Poem for Thomas Hardy

Is it birthday weather for you, dear soul?
Is it fine your way,
With tall moon-daisies alight, and the mole
Busy, and elegant hares at play
By meadow paths where once you would stroll
In the flush of day?

I fancy the beasts and flowers there beguiled
By a visitation
That casts no shadow, a friend whose mild
Inquisitive glance lights with compassion,
Beyond the tomb, on all of this wild
And humbled creation.

It's hard to believe a spirit could die
Of such generous glow,
Or to doubt that somewhere a bird-sharp eye
Still broods on the capers of men below,
A stern voice asks the Immortals why
They should plague us so.

Dear poet, wherever you are, I greet you.
Much irony, wrong,
Innocence you'd find here to tease or entreat you,
And many the fate-fires have tempered strong,
But none that in ripeness of soul could meet you
Or magic of song.

Great brow, frail frame -- gone.  Yet you abide
In the shadow and sheen,
All the mellowing traits of a countryside
That nursed your tragi-comical scene;
And in us, warmer-hearted and brisker-eyed
Since you have been.

C. Day Lewis, Poems 1943-1947 (1948).

Day Lewis's reference to Hardy's "bird-sharp eye" brings to mind Llewellyn Powys's memory of meeting Hardy in 1919:  "He came in at last, a little old man (dressed in tweeds after the manner of a country squire) with the same round skull and the same goblin eyebrows and the same eyes keen and alert.  What was it that he reminded me of?  A night hawk?  a falcon owl? for I tell you the eyes that looked out of that century-old skull were of the kind that see in the dark."  Edmund Blunden, Thomas Hardy (1941), page 159.  For those who may be interested, in previous posts I have mentioned the observations of Powys, H. M. Tomlinson, Blunden, and Siegfried Sassoon upon meeting Hardy in his late years.

John Everett, "Near Corfe Heath, Dorset" (1924)
       Waiting Both

A star looks down at me,
And says:  'Here I and you
Stand, each in our degree:
What do you mean to do, --
            Mean to do?'

I say:  'For all I know,
Wait, and let Time go by,
Till my change come.'  -- 'Just so,'
The star says:  'So mean I: --
            So mean I.'

Thomas Hardy, Human Shows, Far Phantasies, Songs and Trifles (1925).

William Strang, "Thomas Hardy" (1920)