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Saturday, 18 January 2014

Thomas Hardy: The Dead Man Walking


Ward Hill #3 (Andover, Massachusetts): photo by Jim Rohan (LowerDarnley), 14 January 2014

They hail me as one living,
      But don't they know
That I have died of late years,
      Untombed although?

I am but a shape that stands here,
      A pulseless mould,
A pale past picture, screening
      Ashes gone cold.

Not at a minute's warning,
      Not in a loud hour,
For me ceased Time's enchantments
      In hall and bower.

There was no tragic transit,
      No catch of breath,
When silent seasons inched me
      On to this death ....

-- A Troubadour-youth I rambled
      With Life for lyre,
The beats of being raging
      In me like fire.

But when I practised eyeing
      The goal of men,
It iced me, and I perished
      A little then.

When passed my friend, my kinsfolk,
      Through the Last Door,
And left me standing bleakly,
      I died yet more;

And when my Love's heart kindled
      In hate of me,
Wherefore I knew not, died I
      One more degree.

And if when I died fully
      I cannot say,
And changed into the corpse-thing
      I am to-day,

Yet is it that, though whiling
      The time somehow
In walking, talking, smiling,
      I live not now.

Thomas Hardy (1840-1928): The Dead Man Walking, from Time's Laughingstocks and Other Verses, 1909

Ward Hill #2 (Andover, Massachusetts): photo by Jim Rohan (LowerDarnley), 13 January 2014

Nelson Island #1 (Rowley, Massachusetts): photo by Jim Rohan (LowerDarnley), 12 January 2014


ACravan said...

What a remarkable poem, beautifully "set to pictures." The last two weeks have sort of been Thomas Hardy poetry season around our house. It's great running out of superlatives because you can stop talking and get back to the thing at hand. Curtis

Barry Taylor said...

I didn't know this one, and it flashes up freshly for me the sheer unsettling force of Hardy - that combination of appearing at first glance to be some species of pit-pat nursery rhyme and then the depths opening, abyss after abyss. Amazing.

Barry Taylor said...

And, in the few moments of disorientation I had before I could put an author's name to the poem, I was thinking 'Dickinson? One of those C19th editions with her punctuation normalised?' So now I know, I'm left with an unexpected sense of likenesses, the way that both ED and TH infuse the ballad form with their own very personal atmospheres of dislocation, ghostliness, the uncanny. Never noticed that before - I think it takes another poet to set things up - juxtapositions, echos, words and images - so these things can become visible.

mistah charley, ph.d. said...

i followed barry taylor's links to a bob dylan interview fragment

and was reminded of joan osborne's recording of "man in the long black coat"

people don't die or live
people just float

TC said...

Abyss after abyss indeed. And the old fellow was only just getting started.

Not forgetting that TH had another twenty rickety years of what is oft called creativity to endure at this point.

(Fortunate for poetry.)

The thought of the man in the long black coat -- I mean, that OTHER man in the long black coat -- has caused me pause, to think upon another old caballero who, lo well into the serious enduring of a strange new millennium, croaks semi-tunefully on, e'en while stubbornly refusing to croak:

Bob Dylan: The Man in the Long Black Coat, Buenos Aires, 30 April 2012

One falls back. In awe, that is, from a very great distance and immeasurable relative shortfall, to see such stuff.

Philip Larkin interestingly suggested that both Shaw and Hardy, in their very different ways -- one saying that we must live longer, the other that we must get old quicker -- were asking modern man to grow up.

Larkin quotes Clym Yeobright in The Return of the Native: "...the age of modern man is to be measured by the intensity of his history."

"What is the intensely maturing experience of which Hardy's modern man is most sensible? In my view it is suffering, or sadness, and extended consideration of the centrality of suffering in Hardy's work should be the first duty of the true critic..."

Of course we don't do either Hardy or suffering much these days without the calmative sugar pill, if at all, or if at all possible. Safer to look away. But that uncomfortable truth Hardy kept nearly grasping -- it's always going to be not quite far enough out of reach.

TC said...

(And about Dickinson, Barry, she might well have known winter landscapes like those pictured here by Jim Rohan...)

Barry Taylor said...

Tom - For me those wonderful spooky photos open up another dimension of this post's trip into the uncanny - I've never been to New England, but I've walked that lane in the third picture more than once in (Old) Hampshire. More shivers here than that ice accounts for.

ACravan said...

"we don't do either Hardy or suffering much these days without the calmative sugar pill, if at all, or if at all possible."

That's very nicely put and segues, I think, into the current notion of the "low information" approach to life and various actions we're sometimes called to take.

I enjoyed seeing the Dylan performance in Buenos Aires. The last time we saw him play was ages ago at the Chicago Theater during the period when he was nightly performing familiar material in different and unfamiliar arrangements. Frustrating as that was, the man's presence was enormous and completely energized that wonderful theater.


TC said...

He sings as though being made to masticate a Brillo pad saturated with bits of broken glass.

"That said", it ought probably be asserted in his defense that that is pretty much how one might expect a man in a long black coat to sing.

(While wearing a blue hat.)

That argument would probably hold good exactly as long as it took to get to the next number in the set... on which, of course, he sounds exactly the same.

Then again, to take another example of death in life making interesting entertainment, Chet Baker always sounded as though he had lost his voice many years before, and was going on the ghost of pure feeling (hold the chunk-style Brillo pads).

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

"... it's always going to be not quite far enough out of reach. ..."

The human condition, in 12 words.

Serendipity being what it is, I'd just been listening to Dylan when I came to the powerful Hardy poem - the new collection of alternates and out takes and things that didn't make albums, "Another Self-Portrait."

Interestingly, this is the one that grabbed me and I was delighted to read that it is an old English ballad, gorgeously rendered and unreleased till now.

Pretty Saro

The video was done by Jennifer Lebeau - many of the photos she utilizes will be familiar to readers of this blog ...


TC said...

Well, Don, when will we ever stop reaching?

Sweet Dylan rendition of that ballad and yes, the human condition still seems to saturate that vintage FSA Kodachrome, in the hands of our Old Masters -- Jack Delano, Russell Lee, John Vachon, Marion Post, Alfred Palmer...