This week’s Featured Poem comes from Thomas Hardy, a deeply moving and emotional piece and one of the elegy poems Hardy composed after the death of his first wife Emma in 1912 – a previous Featured Poem, The Voice, is another one of these, and it is quite clear to see how they follow in the same vein.
The references to light and darkness, as well as the repeated questions to the departed Emma, all speak of a feeling of despair, but it is perhaps the words that evoke many different incarnations of a sense of something as fleeting – ‘one glimpse‘, ‘the softest call’, ‘think for a breath‘ – that are most poignant and most regrettable.
In issue 59 of The Reader – previewed here yesterday – Philip Davis writes on another of Hardy’s elegy poems, The Shadow on the Stone. In his discussion, he finds what can often be at the root of the realisation inherent in shared reading for people experiencing difficulties:
“Most literature is made out of what is lost, missing, created from trouble, in need of a help that often does not come.”
Where creation comes, it follows that understanding – or a sense of it – will too.
Why did you give no hint that night
That quickly after the morrow’s dawn,
And calmly, as if indifferent quite,
You would close your term here, up and be gone
Where I could not follow
With wing of swallow
To gain one glimpse of you ever anon!
Never to bid good-bye
Or lip me the softest call,
Or utter a wish for a word, while I
Saw morning harden upon the wall,
That your great going
Had place that moment, and altered all.
Why do you make me leave the house
And think for a breath it is you I see
At the end of the alley of bending boughs
Where so often at dusk you used to be;
Till in darkening dankness
The yawning blankness
Of the perspective sickens me!
You were she who abode
By those red-veined rocks far West,
You were the swan-necked one who rode
Along the beetling Beeny Crest,
And, reining nigh me,
Would muse and eye me,
While Life unrolled us its very best.
Why, then, latterly did we not speak,
Did we not think of those days long dead,
And ere your vanishing strive to seek
That time’s renewal? We might have said,
“In this bright spring weather
We’ll visit together
Those places that once we visited.”
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!