And thus we move from swedes and mangels to furniture, and to the poet laureate of furniture, Thomas Hardy. William Blake sees the World in a Grain of Sand. Hardy sees the World in aging furniture.
Dod Procter, "Kitchen at Myrtle Cottage" (c. 1930-1935)
Ghosts are matter-of-fact presences in Hardy's poetry. They are seldom frightening or ominous, and they are often quite willing to carry on a casual conversation, or to simply linger about, minding their own business.
The Garden Seat
Its former green is blue and thin,
And its once firm legs sink in and in;
Soon it will break down unaware,
Soon it will break down unaware.
At night when reddest flowers are black
Those who once sat thereon come back;
Quite a row of them sitting there,
Quite a row of them sitting there.
With them the seat does not break down,
Nor winter freeze them, nor floods drown,
For they are as light as upper air,
They are as light as upper air!
Thomas Hardy, Late Lyrics and Earlier, with Many Other Verses (1922).
"Quite a row of them sitting there" is very nice: a bit of humor (perhaps), coupled with a gentle reminder.
Duncan Grant, "Girl at the Piano" (1940)
Though a piece of furniture may not be haunted, it may still carry revenants with it. Memories tend to attach themselves to things, don't they? The emotions aroused by bric-a-brac can be surprising.
The Little Old Table
Creak, little wood thing, creak,
When I touch you with elbow or knee;
That is the way you speak
Of one who gave you to me!
You, little table, she brought --
Brought me with her own hand,
As she looked at me with a thought
That I did not understand.
-- Whoever owns it anon,
And hears it, will never know
What a history hangs upon
This creak from long ago.
Thomas Hardy, Ibid.
Harriet Backer, "By Lamplight" (1890)
"There is no line, until you reach the last four, that stops you with its beauty; and you run through the beauty of the last four to reach the end; and then the beauty of the whole takes you and flows back through the whole poem."
Anonymous reviewer, Times Literary Supplement (June 1, 1922), quoted in Dennis Taylor, Hardy's Poetry, 1860-1928 (Columbia University Press 1981), page 2. This is an extremely perceptive observation, and goes a long way towards increasing one's appreciation of Hardy's art.
I know not how it may be with others
Who sit amid relics of householdry
That date from the days of their mothers' mothers,
But well I know how it is with me
I see the hands of the generations
That owned each shiny familiar thing
In play on its knobs and indentations
And with its ancient fashioning
Hands behind hands, growing paler and paler,
As in a mirror a candle-flame
Shows images of itself, each frailer
As it recedes, though the eye may frame
Its shape the same.
On the clock's dull dial a foggy finger,
Moving to set the minutes right
With tentative touches that lift and linger
In the wont of a moth on a summer night,
Creeps on my sight.
On this old viol, too, fingers are dancing --
As whilom -- just over the strings by the nut,
The tip of a bow receding, advancing
In airy quivers, as if it would cut
The plaintive gut.
And I see a face by that box for tinder,
Glowing forth in fits from the dark,
And fading again, as the linten cinder
Kindles to red at the flinty spark,
Or goes out stark.
Well, well. It is best to be up and doing,
The world has no use for one to-day
Who eyes things thus -- no aim pursuing!
He should not continue in this stay,
But sink away.
Thomas Hardy, Moments of Vision and Miscellaneous Verses (1917). "Whilom" (line 22) means "at some past time; some time before or ago; once upon a time." OED.
I am very fond of "Well, well" in the final stanza, just as I am very fond of "Well, well!" in the final stanza of "The Going":
Well, well! All's past amend,
Unchangeable. It must go.
I seem but a dead man held on end
To sink down soon. . . . O you could not know
That such swift fleeing
No soul foreseeing --
Not even I -- would undo me so!
C. H. H. Burleigh
"The Burleigh Family Taking Tea at Wilbury Crescent, Hove" (1947)