Week 295: During Wind and Rain, by Thomas Hardy

The theme and mood of this poem, an aching nostalgia for the past, are very similar to those of last week’s piece by Trumbull Stickney. Not being didactically involved with poetry, I feel no great urge to make critical judgments: the spirit of this blog is simply one of I like this, you might too. But I am mildly interested as to exactly why I should feel instinctively that the Stickney poem is good, but this Hardy poem, despite a certain quaintness of diction, is better; indeed, I would say it is touched with greatness. Something to do with the individuality of it, the feeling that no other poet could have written anything like it? Something to do with power and prowess, with the electric charge of lines like ‘Down their carved names the raindrop ploughs’? I come to no sure conclusion, but then, I don’t have to. I like this, you might too…

During Wind and Rain

They sing their dearest songs —
He, she, all of them — yea,
Treble and tenor and bass,
And one to play;
With the candles mooning each face….
Ah, no; the years O!
How the sick leaves reel down in throngs!

They clear the creeping moss —
Elders and juniors — aye,
Making the pathways neat
And the garden gay;
And they build a shady seat….
Ah, no; the years, the years;
See, the white storm-birds wing across!

They are blithely breakfasting all —
Men and maidens — yea,
Under the summer tree,
With a glimpse of the bay,
While pet fowl come to the knee….
Ah, no; the years O!
And the rotten rose is ript from the wall.

They change to a high new house,
He, she, all of them — aye,
Clocks and carpets and chairs
On the lawn all day,
And brightest things that are theirs….
Ah, no; the years, the years;
Down their carved names the rain-drop ploughs.

Thomas Hardy

8 thoughts on “Week 295: During Wind and Rain, by Thomas Hardy

  1. In the last verse it’s possible to read “a high new house” as heaven, in which case their possessions are piled on the lawn to be sold off. However, I prefer to read it simply as a happy event (a welcome move to a new house with a view?). Then all four verses consist of a happy event followed by a two-line lament.

    • When I first read it I got a bit confused about the ‘Clocks and carpets and chairs/On the lawn all day’ – it created a rather surreal picture: why would you have clocks and carpets on the lawn? Then I decided this was just Hardy being slightly clumsy here, or least a bit too elliptical, and it was only the chairs that were to be taken as being on the lawn, the clocks and carpets simply being accoutrements of the new house. I tend to insert a mental comma after ‘carpets’. No, I don’t think the high new house carries any suggestion of heaven, just, as you say, of happy times past: the whole poem can be seen as an exemplum of Dante’s words in the ‘Inferno’: ‘Nessun maggior dolore/Che ricordarsi dal tempo felice/Ne la miseria’.

  2. These lines from “At Castle Boterel” are relevant: “Time’s unflinching rigour, / In mindless rote, has ruled from sight / The substance now”. (I would imagine Hardy touches on this theme in other poems too.)

    • Yes, he was more haunted than most by the passing of time. Claire Tomalin’s fine biography of him is aptly named ‘Thomas Hardy The Time-torn Man’. I imagine you’d like ‘The Self Unseeing’, which I must feature some day, though I am aware of the danger of this blog being swamped by Hardy poems!

  3. Hi David, yes I like “The Self-Unseeing”. He doesn’t spell out what he means in the title and the last line. I wouldn’t have understood if I hadn’t already seen the idea somewhere (I can’t remember where – another Hardy poem?).

    • I have wondered if ‘The Self-Unseeing’ owes something to Wordsworth, particularly to the Immortality ode with its idea that ‘Heaven lies about us in our infancy’ and its lament ‘Whither is fled the visionary gleam/Where is it now, the glory and the dream’. But Hardy adds a characteristic sort of Joni Mitchell twist: ‘You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone…’

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