Tuesday, 2 June 2020

In a churchyard...

It's 180 years today since the birth of Thomas Hardy: poet, architect, novelist, playwright, musician, countryman and legend.

Hardy (like his protagonist Jude) didn't go to public school or Oxford. He didn't inherit wealth. He worked, as an architect. And wrote in his spare time. It was architectural business - not literary - that took him to Cornwall in 1870. While there he met the woman who was to become his wife, the woman who, over a long marriage, he would neglect and whose death he would mourn so painfully that it inspired some of the English language's best poetry.

Here's one of his poems not directly inspired by the death of his first wife. 'While Drawing in a Churchyard' is sometimes subtitled 'Song of the Yew' and it is the yew tree, that ancient tree of churchyards, that speaks to the poet. "Death isn't as bad as people think, y'know," the tree seems to say.

But then, that was Hardy's own view!

'It is sad that so many of worth,  
Still in the flesh,' soughed the yew,  
'Misjudge their lot whom kindly earth  
Secludes from view.

'They ride their diurnal round  
Each day-span's sum of hours  
In peerless ease, without jolt or bound  
Or ache like ours.  

'If the living could but hear  
What is heard by my roots as they creep  
Round the restful flock, and the things said there,  
No one would weep.'  

' "Now set among the wise,"  
They say: "Enlarged in scope,  
That no God trumpet us to rise  
We truly hope." '  

I listened to his strange tale  
In the mood that stillness brings,  
And I grew to accept as the day wore pale  
That show of things.

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