Featured Poem: An August Midnight by Thomas Hardy

This week we have a timely poem from Thomas Hardy who is reflecting on An August Midnight.

Thomas Hardy was born in Dorset in 1840, named for his father, a stonemason and builder. His mother Jemima loved reading and relating local folk tales and songs. Their interests were to heavily influence Hardy’s future writings, passing on a love architecture, music and a passion for literature.

Hardy received much of his early education at home, going to school at the age of eight and leaving at sixteen. His family hadn’t the means to send him to university so Hardy became an apprentice to a local architect. After this training he went on to enroll at King’s College London in 1862, winning prizes from Royal Institute of British Architects and the Architectual Association. 

It was during this period in London that Hardy became acutely conscious of the class divisions that dictated society at the time and became interested in social reform and works of John Stuart Mill. This too would influence his work, being highly critical of Victorian society, however, having returned to Dorset in 1867 when he started writing, Hardy focused more on the decline of rural society.

Following his wife’s death in 1912, Hardy made a trip to Cornwall to revisit places linked with their courtship and penned much of the collection Poems 1912-13 which reflects on her death. Although he did remarry, Hardy remained preoccupied by his first wife’s death, writing poetry on the subject throughout his career.

Hardy died in December 1927, dictating his final poem to his wife while on his deathbed. His funeral proved to be a controversial occasion. Hardy had stipulated that he wished to be buried with his first wife, Emma however his executor insisted upon his being interred at Poet’s Corner of Westminster Abbey, where his funeral took place in January 1928. His family wished to respect Hardy’s wishes, however a compromise was met whereby his heart was buried in Stinsford with his first wife, and his ashes in Poet’s Corner.  

An August Midnight

I

A shaded lamp and a waving blind,
And the beat of a clock from a distant floor:
On this scene enter—winged, horned, and spined—
A longlegs, a moth, and a dumbledore;
While ‘mid my page there idly stands
A sleepy fly, that rubs its hands…

II

Thus meet we five, in this still place,
At this point of time, at this point in space.
—My guests besmear my new-penned line,
Or bang at the lamp and fall supine.
“God’s humblest, they!” I muse. Yet why?
They know Earth-secrets that know not I.

Thomas Hardy

1 thought on “Featured Poem: An August Midnight by Thomas Hardy”

  1. I am an early bird (it was far away and long ago that I would read study and hear the chimes of midnight) I can
    nevertheless empathise with Hardy’s response to his tiny and fragile visitors -does anyone else remember his ‘Moth Signal’ ? Or Robert Frost’s ‘A Considerable Speck’?
    On Sunday , back in Cheshire from York, I attended a family gathering to celebrate a marriage between a countrywoman of
    Tolstoy and a ‘Cheshire Cat’ -a local man. Each small family group from ‘our’ side was asked to bring a gift symbolising our part of the UK. The bride’s parents reciprocated with presents from their region. Children played around.
    The ‘Cheshire Cat” addressed the generations at the table-but especially those who are younger and working abroad (one from each family present) on the theme of remaining abroad, pondering the pros and cons of this in contemporary times.
    A small fly, perhaps overcome by the imponderables, dropped in front of my eyes-amid the gleaming white table clothes and glistening wine glasses. Outside in the hotel garden
    clay pigeon shots perhaps echoed Hardy’s sombre response to
    the gunfire of 1914 across the Channel-or to falling pheasants in ‘his’ Dorset-and today’s Britain.

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