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Sunday, 28 February 2010

Thomas Hardy: I Look Into My Glass


Snow by raworth.

I look into my glass,
And view my wasting skin,
And say, "Would God it came to pass
My heart had shrunk so thin!"

For then I, undistrest
By hearts grown cold to me,
Could lonely wait my endless rest
With equanimity.

But Time, to make me grieve,
Part steals, lets part abide;
And shakes this fragile frame at eve
With throbbings of noontide.

Boxing Day Dawn by raworth.

I Look Into My Glass
: Thomas Hardy, from Wessex Poems (1898)

Snow (18.12.09): photo by Tom Raworth, 2009
Boxing Day Dawn (26.12.09): photo by Tom Raworth, 2009


Carol Peters said...

with my first cup of tea
your blog

Charlie Vermont said...

when hearts grow cold
equanimity at noon is
best to pass the test
later you can rest

Thanks TC for the morning

TC said...

The bony, trembling old Hardy reaches out gratefully for the hot drink, and spills no more than a drop or two, hoping no one will have noticed the stain...


Ah, Tom, Hardy, makes me want to go back to read those Wessex poems again. Master of Grim, as in "In Tenebris'. TR's photos so timely, always welcome here in our Wessex. . . . Thanks for all 3 of these (poems) and their visual accompaniments. Meanwhile, not so grim here, first an edge of the full moon going down through black branches, then orange edge of sun coming up through branches (different ones, opposite corner of the panorama), then orange sunlight on wall next to bed ---


first grey light in sky above black plane
of ridge, whiteness of moon below branch
in foreground, wave sounding in channel

the unconcealed that saying
lets appear, in space

directions, moment at which
initial response, say

silver of sunlight reflected in channel,
shadowed canyon of ridge across from it

TC said...

Well, Steve, in the tenebrous Hardy I always do read some fire and light if only in bits here and there, as in the lower Raworth shot, the life force coming through, the electricity, the rising sun (as in your diurnal "picture" the orange sunlight on wall next to bed, emerging from dark morning).

"the unconcealed that saying
lets appear"


All this has prompted me to go out and look for Hardy, musty old hardcover Collected Poems, those Wessex poems right at the beginning, "Neutral Tones" with its "pond edge with grayish leaves"; "InTenetris" with its "Flower-petals flee[ong]," "Birds faint[ing] in dread," "Leaves freez[ing] to dun," "Black . . . night's cope." Oh, what woe hath Hardy wrought.

Anonymous said...

Hi Tom,

I've been away for the past week (and am back on the road again tomorrow) so I had a few days of posts to catch up on. Nice to see this latest little antholgy going. Especially grateful for the William Empson, a poet that bears rereading but who is sadly too much neglected these days. I like the way his strange dictions and tight metred constructions force the reader to double back and discover missed revelations. Good call to follow Empson with Tom Raworth.

Jack Brae Curtingstall

TC said...


I am glad that you have looked again into the poems of TH, but sorry you have found there little more than woe being wrought. What can one say? Of course the dread that made the bird in In Tenebris faint was Hardy's own, but perhaps dread, like joy, is one of those things that occasionally affects the human heart, and brings about the consequent anthropomorphic assignment of human feelings to non-human creatures and other natural phenomena. I know this sort of thing makes people terribly anxious now. A similar resistance seems likewise to have latterly removed the work of D.H. Lawrence from serious consideration by those who dwell within the academic nimbus. (One cannot help remembering all those clouds in The Rainbow, gifted by the writer with human emotional qualities -- such dangerous transgression! Oh, how uncomfortable-making!)

I understand of course that Hardy was by all accounts a somewhat mean and curmudgeonly fellow in later life, and as literally all his poetry dates from his later life (written, I believe, after the age of fifty-seven or fifty-eight), there is (also understandably) none of a young person's élan to be found anywhere in it.

But as I approach (ah, with quaking heart) my seventh decade I learn with each passing minute how much of life there remains to be encountered, like it or not, in the time when one's youth can no longer even be remembered, except as fleeting moments here and there.

Not to follow this line of defense for Hardy's poems too far (they certainly don't need me to legitimize them, and in any case my defense would probably turn more people against them than for them); but consider, if you will, what Pound, writing in 1938, at the age of fifty-three, had to say about Hardy's Collected:

"No man can read Hardy's poems collected but that his own life, and forgotten moments of it, will come back to him, a flash here and an hour there. Have you a better test of true poetry?...

"There is a flood of life caught in this crystal."

And I must also admit that, since I am well aware of the ex cathedra dismissal of the unreconstructed "quietist" Hardy from the proprietary canons of postmodern and deconstructionist criticism, I worried a bit about my pairing his poem -- which, by the way, I consider ineffably wonderful, brave and deeply true to life -- with the equally wonderful and formally resonant images produced just lately by an artist who can never be accused of any of the defects of old stodgy Thomas Hardy.

So I asked Tom Raworth how he felt about this pairing. No bother, said Tom in reply. "Always found interest in Hardy's poems myself."

TC said...

Hello Jack,

Delighted to hear from you, my friend, grateful you have taken time from your travels.

Lovely your comment about Empson, "the way his strange dictions and tight metred constructions force the reader to double back and discover missed revelations." Very well said and spot on. I grow to appreciate his work more and more with the years. (Of course "over here" it goes almost entirely unread, which is perhaps a mercy; as, were it to be read, it would doubtless then qualify to be officially disapproved of, and thus summarily dismissed, in those smug sanctuaries of academic opinion where reputations are casually made and peremptorily lost, as the idiot winds of taste and convenience shift and change).

In my view Empson and Raworth are two of the very finest British poets of the post-Romantic epoch, with perhaps even some curious commonalty of spirit between them; I am therefore very pleased to hear you have found at least a smidgeon of sense in that particular segue in my little unobtainium treasury of verse.

Anonymous said...

Some Versions of Pastoral:

Surely Bentley was right to be surprised at finding Faunus haunting the bower [Paradise Lost ll. 705 - 707], a ghost crying in the cold of Paradise, and the lusts of Pan sacred even in comparison to Eden... (Wikipedia Empson entry has entire quote)

and the inversion, the diurnal and nocturnal both,

the utter joy to lean (though always with a bit of trepidation) at Hardy's coppice gate, with a chance to overhear the darkling thrush.

TC said...


It seems likely Hardy knew this passage from that great observer of fauna in general, and birds in particular, W.H. Hudson, when he wrote The Darkling Thrush:

Hudson: from Nature in Downland

Mid-winter is the season of the missel-thrush... when there is no gleam of light anywhere and no change in that darkness of immense ever-moving cloud above; and the south-west raves all day and all night, and day after day, then the storm-cock sings his loudest from a tree-top and has no rival. A glorious bird!... You must believe that this dark aspect of things delights him; that his pleasure in life, expressed with such sounds and in such circumstances, must greatly exceed in degree the contentment and bliss that is ours, even when we are most free from pain and care, and our whole beings most perfectly in tune with nature... The sound is beautiful in quality, but the singer has no art, and flings his notes out anyhow; the song is an outburst, a cry of happiness.

The Darkling Thrush
by Thomas Hardy

I leant upon a coppice gate
When Frost was spectre-gray,
And Winter's dregs made desolate
The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
Had sought their household fires.

The land's sharp features seemed to be
The Century's corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
Seemed fervourless as I.

At once a voice arose among
The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
Upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings
Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
And I was unaware.

Anonymous said...

oh, but would anonymous be a free agent, as as is any number, squared.

TC said...

Oh, and I too believe in free agency, and would like to consider myself a free agent as well, though when I travel (and admittedly it is never very far, rarely even as far as the coppice gate), it is always, for better or worse, under my own name.



Of course you're right, there's so much more in Hardy than "woe" -- as "The Darkling Thrush" (thanks to you for recalling it!) attests. I think I was thinking of his melodrama, which is of course completely heartfelt and beautiful -- the fire burns inside even in darkest of winter, facing the end of things. . . . (And as Tom's photo of orange of sun rising through grey of clouds suggests, each new day brings something of the life force to the fore -- call it "glimmer of hope"? "the world is still there?" things still to be seen and heard. . . . Yes, as you so wonderfully say, the "unreconstructed 'quietest' Hardy" isn't showing up in many postmodern poetry conversations these days (much less any blogs, at least not until this one, for which all thanks -- but as Pound found, "a flood of life caught in this crystal" (thanks too for that!). Meanwhile, this ---


grey whiteness of cloud against invisible
top of ridge, motionless green of leaves
in foreground, sound of wave in channel

nature of motion, reference
to perceptible object

construction, given another
view of, details here

silver of sunlight reflected in channel,
cormorants flapping across toward point

Anonymous said...

and glimmer of hope as well that the journey into the electric crypt to uncover Hardy yet again and turn over a few other leaves before returning home for comfort
requires no passport.

InvisibleJack said...

Hi Tom

I'm afraid that I'm only the first "anonymous", those other posts are by someone else. I'd best post under one of my usernames from now on to spare confusion.

I think it's probably fair to say that Empson is fairly neglected on this side of the pond as a poet as well, in the sense that he's not as widely known as he should be. What makes him special, in my view, is that his formal poetric training was squeezed through the clothes-wringer of his eccentricity. He also had a very clear-headed view of his own work, as is often evident in his notes.

Yes, very much agree with you on the commonality of spirit between Empson and Raworth. I have often wondered what kind of poet Empson would have turned out as if he'd been born just two decaeds later. Although, like most poets, I'm sure he'd be equally neglected as he is now.

Jack Brae

Pinkerbell said...

Hey TC,

I know that when I come here you've always got something for my present mood. I'm feeling melancholy at the prospect of ageing, having started to feel the physical effects, and here we are.

I recognise this part:

"But Time, to make me grieve,
Part steals, lets part abide;"

Oh if only things would disappear without us noticing and missing them, by health or people who we share things with.

Rachel Loden said...

One of your passionate best, Tom. Thanks. Wish you would expand your thoughts on Hardy beyond what can fit into a comment box.

Elmo St. Rose said...

Dear TC,
Ditto Loden but this is a particular request:
in the European wars prior to the
twentieth century...the bodies of
conscripted soldiers who died in
battle were ground up for fertilizer and spread in the fields. I heard it said that Hardy
has a poem about this practice.
You wouldn't happen to know it?

Pinkerbell said...


There is Drummer Hodge: who seems to have been rather unceremoniously dumped. Strange I was just reading over Hardy's war poems earlier...

They throw in Drummer Hodge, to rest
Uncoffined - just as found:
His landmark is a kopje-crest
That breaks the veldt around;
And foreign constellations west
Each night above his mound.

Young Hodge the Drummer never knew -
Fresh from his Wessex home -
The meaning of the broad Karoo,
The Bush, the dusty loam,
And why uprose to nightly view
Strange stars amid the gloam.

Yet portion of that unknown plain
Will Hodge for ever be;
His homely Northern breast and brain
Grow to some Southern tree,
And strange-eyed constellations reign
His stars eternally.

I always rather liked this one:


"Had he and I but met
By some old ancient inn,
We should have sat us down to wet
Right many a nipperkin!

"But ranged as infantry,
And staring face to face,
I shot him as he at me,
And killed him in his place.

"I shot him dead because -
Because he was my foe,
Just so: my foe of course he was;
That's clear enough; although

"He thought he'd list, perhaps,
Off-hand like - just as I -
Was out of work - had sold his traps -
No other reason why.

"Yes; quaint and curious war is!
You shoot a fellow down
You'd treat if met where any bar is,
Or help to half-a-crown."

TC said...

Yes Jack thanks, I had muddled through my own half-wittedness until I had that sorted out. All Anonymouses (Anonimice?) are NOT the same in the dark.

(Very good about Empson -- "his formal poetic training was squeezed through the clothes-wringer of his eccentricity".)

Anonimouse: good bit about the electric crypt. (My little unobtainium treasury?)


Ah, were there world enough and time... and space... and energy... and popcorn.


Thanks very much for helping out our enquiring Elmo by bringing us more top drawer Hardy.

"...feeling melancholy at the prospect of ageing, having started to feel the physical effects, and here we are."

My sentiments exactly, though I fear I am a bit ahead of you with the effects.

(What was that we were saying?)

TC said...


And lovely too, this:

. . .the fire burns inside even in darkest of winter, facing the end of things. . . . call it "glimmer of hope"? "the world is still there?" things still to be seen and heard. . . .

given another
view of, details here


directions, moment


(Not much life force to the morning here, alas, no darkling thrush, just endless commute traffic on the freeway feeder, gunmetal grey dawn, old, tired, beginning to rain AGAIN.)

TC said...

And BTW, before I forget (or, as I have already forgotten, and have bumblingly lost this comment, and now attempt to reconstruct): some further miscellaneous bits of Hardyana:

From notes & remarks:

"What made poetry 2000 years ago makes poetry now."

[One feels he knows whereof he speaks, he lived to be almost that old. TH and God, who's older? But TH didn't believe in God. Did God believe in TH?]

"The value of old age depends upon the person who reaches it."

[Somewhat daunting that -- see above.]

And about Drummer Hodge, the poem helpfully brought to this little Hardy Party by our Pinkerbell: for those unfamiliar with history and/or Hardy, this is Boer War business. By the end of November 1899, 60,000 troops had sailed out of Southampton, not far from Hardy's home, bound for South Africa. In a note on the first magazine appearance of Drummer Hodge, Hardy wrote: "One of the Drummers killed was a native of a village near Casterbridge". (He meant, a local lad.)

kopje==small hillock
veldt==grassy plain, savanna
Karoo==high arid plateau in S. Africa
Hodge==patronizing generic name for rustic labourer

And cf. Tess of the D'Urbervilles [and, aside, Steve, re. the "life force" -- Ah, Tess!]:

"The conventional farm-folk of his imagination -- personified in the newspaper-press by the pitiable dummy known as Hodge -- were obliterated after a few days' residence. At close quarters no Hodge was to be seen... He had been disintegrated into a number of fellow-creatures -- beings of many minds, beings infinite in difference; some happy, some serene, a few depressed, one here and there bright even to genius, some stupid, others wanton, others austere; some mutely Miltonic, some potentially Cromwellian; into men who had private views of each other, as he had of his friends..."

(Harking back to Pound, one recalls Robert Duncan, in a letter to H.D., referring to the bewildering, sometimes infuriating, saturation-density "ground" or "background" texture of the Cantos as a "hodge podge" -- the common life of it!)


Tom and All,
Thanks for all such Hardiana these last days, as rain falls from the grey/gray sky, some glow comes forth, water bringing new life back to the earth -- Drummer Hodge turned back to a clod, maybe echoed in Hardy's "In Time of 'The Breaking of Nations'":

Only a man harrow clods
In a slow silent walk
With an old horse that stumbles and nods
Half asleep as they walk.

Only thin smoke without flame
From the heaps of couch-grass;
Yet this will go onward the same
Though Dynasties pass.

Yonder a maid and her wight
Come whispering by:
War's annals will fade into night
Ere their story die.

And with that, only most humbly can I add this --


grey whiteness of cloud against invisible
ridge, shadowed wet green of leaf in left
foreground, sound of rain falling on roof

space in its temporal order
elements which appear

visual, rather than tactile,
what is in experience

grey-white sky on horizon next to point,
whiteness of gull perched on GROIN sign

Pinkerbell said...

Tom, I didn't mean to take over blog-mistress rights or anything, I just had literally just been looking over those particular war poems. John Joubert (famous for the christmas hit "Torches") wrote a wonderful piece called "South of the Line", which set these poems to music. I was playing some strange percussion instrument consisting of lots of tiny round metal discs at the northern premier of said piece in 1990 and was quite affected by it all. I was trying to find a link to the music online put it on my blog, but there is not a single version to be linked to.

TC said...


Believe me I did appreciate your pitching in with Hardy, I can use all the help I can get.

Interesting that these poems were set to music, interesting personal coincidence for you there.


Here, too, sound of rain falling on (and through) roof.

space in its temporal order
elements which appear

Hardy said that the incident in In the Time of the Breaking of Nations was something he saw in the fields during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, but that he did not write the poem until the time of the German War of 1914.

(How many wars in one lifetime?)

The title of the poem refers to Jeremiah, God's judgment upon Babylon.

Speaking of...A friend down the block has learned there are atheist pet-sitters who will, for a modest fee ($110 for a ten-year contract), care for your animals if you are seized up in the Rapture.