Week 12: A Church Romance, by Thomas Hardy

A Church Romance
(Mellstock: circa 1835)

She turned in the high pew, until her sight
Swept the west gallery, and caught its row
Of music-men with viol, book and bow
Against the sinking sad tower-window light.

She turned again; and in her pride’s despite
One strenuous viol’s inspirer seemed to throw
A message from his string to her below,
Which said: ‘I claim thee as my own forthright!’

Thus their hearts’ bond began, in due time signed.
And long years thence, when Age had scared Romance,
At some old attitude of his or glance
That gallery-scene would break upon her mind,
With him as minstrel, ardent, young, and trim,
Bowing ‘New Sabbath’ or ‘Mount Ephraim’.

Thomas Hardy

You can see why Philip Larkin admired Hardy so much: could there be a more perfect example than this poem of those ‘long perspectives’ that Larkin speaks of in ‘Reference Back’, that ‘link us to our losses’. Yet somehow ‘A Church Romance’ for all its regret for time past seems more committed to the possibility of real human love than Larkin’s own cautious almost-true almost-instinct: this bond was signed, and endured.


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