Sunday, November 7, 2010

A hearty poem of the week by Thomas Hardy...There's gotta be a better Thomas Hardy pun....

During Wind and Rain by Thomas Hardy

They sing their dearest songs-
He, she, all of them - yea,
Treble and tenor and bass,
And one to play;
With the candles mooning each face...
Ah, no; the years O!
How the sick leaves reel down in throngs!

They clear the creeping moss-
Elders and juniors - aye,
Making the pathways neat
And the garden gay;
And they build a shady seat...
Ah, no; the years, the years;
See, the white storm-birds wing across!
They are blithely breakfasting all-
Men and maidens - yea,
Under the summer tree,
With a glimpse of the bay,
While pet fowl come to the knee...
Ah, no; the years O!
And the rotten rose is ript from the wall.

They change to a high new house,
He, she, all of them - aye,
Clocks and carpets and chairs
On the lawn all day,
And brightest things that are theirs...
Ah, no; the years, the years;
Down their carved names the rain-drop ploughs.

In my search for a poem of the week I though it would be fun to have a love poem. Unfortunately there seem to be a lot more quality in death poems than in love poems, especially if you're looking for a poem of the week from Thomas Hardy. But don't worry! Good love poems do exist, and I'll find one for next week.

This morose little poem was published in Hardy's last volume of poetry when he was in his 80s. If you're familiar with Hardy you know he can be a pretty bleak dude whether in novels or poetry, but in his last volume of poetry he seems to have come to terms life long pessimism. However, he was the one who set these terms and they still come off pretty gloomy.

In this poem Hardy begins each stanza with a happy domestic scene like a family singing, or moving into a new house and then introduces Time to destroy whatever harmony the poem is trying to create. The structure of the poem lends itself well to the theme. The beginning of the stanzas is written in a song-like rhythm until "Ah, no;" the rhythm is broken and the long last line, loaded with a string of sharp syllables portrays Time's decay. Just as the devastating passing of Time seems to catch us off guard and only slows when we stop to consider the damage it's done, the last lines of each stanza come as a surprise.

But Hardy isn't just trying to bring everybody down. Believe it or not, the of inevitability of death isn't the only lesson the poem is trying to teach. There seems to be a correlation between what activity the family is engaged in, and the type of destruction time inflicts in each stanza. If they're singing as a family, sick leaves fall of the trees; that's not really so bad if you think about it, after all, the leaves will grow back in spring.

In each of the first three stanzas the family is finding joy in each other or in nature. Although time still arrives to crash the party, its damages are temporary: falling leaves, a storm, or a decaying rose. It's not until the family seeks joy in a new house with fancy carpet and clocks - "bright thing that are theirs" - that time takes its darkest toll.

In reminding us of that our deaths are inescapable, Hardy is not trying to cheapen life. Only when material possessions and status become the source of all joy do we become nothing more than a decaying name on a tombstone. Or as Hardy puts it in his cutting last line: "Down their carved names the rain-drop ploughs."

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