Today (2nd June 2014) marks the 174th anniversary of Thomas Hardy’s birth in the village of Higher Bockhampton in the county of Dorset. One of the most celebrated novelists in English literature – most famous for works including Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Jude the Obscure and Far From The Madding Crowd – Hardy also produced poetry spanning across the Victorian and modern eras in what was a remarkably long career.
Hardy is often remembered for his somewhat downbeat approach to life in his works, but perhaps this is a matter of personal interpretation. It is for certain however that during his life he bore witness to a number of upheavals in society, which undoubtedly influenced his writing. Hardy described himself as a poet “who holds that if way to the Better there be, it exacts a full look at the Worst”. This is a view that can be clearly seen in this evocative poem, which we’re choosing as our Featured Poem this week to mark the celebration.
Ghost of the Past
We two kept house, the Past and I,
The Past and I;
I tended while it hovered nigh,
Leaving me never alone.
It was a spectral housekeeping
Where fell no jarring tone,
As strange, as still a housekeeping
As ever has been known.
As daily I went up the stair,
And down the stair,
I did not mind the Bygone there —
The Present once to me;
Its moving meek companionship
I wished might ever be,
There was in that companionship
Something of ecstasy.
It dwelt with me just as it was,
Just as it was
When first its prospects gave me pause
In wayward wanderings,
Before the years had torn old troths
As they tear all sweet things,
Before gaunt griefs had torn old troths
And dulled old rapturings.
And then its form began to fade,
Began to fade,
Its gentle echoes faintlier played
At eves upon my ear
Than when the autumn’s look embrowned
The lonely chambers here,
The autumn’s settling shades embrowned
Nooks that it haunted near.
And so with time my vision less,
Yea, less and less
Makes of that Past my housemistress,
It dwindles in my eye;
It looms a far-off skeleton
And not a comrade nigh,
A fitful far-off skeleton
Dimming as days draw by.