Week 396: Birthday Poem for Thomas Hardy, by C. Day-Lewis

It is Thomas Hardy’s birthday next Tuesday (June 2nd) so this tribute seems a fitting choice. It is cleverly couched in Hardy’s own idiom, and has a generosity of spirit not always apparent among poets. But Hardy does appear to have this knack of inspiring an unusual level of affection in his readers, and if, reading his biography, one sometimes suspects that he poured the best wine of his spirit into his work and had only the lees left for the other people in his life, well, he’s not the first artist of whom this could be said. What did Yeats say? ‘The intellect of man is forced to choose/Perfection of the life or of the work’. (It is entirely possible, of course, to fall well short of perfection in both…)

Birthday Poem for Thomas Hardy

Is it birthday weather for you, dear soul?
Is it fine your way,
With tall moon-daisies alight, and the mole
Busy, and elegant hares at play
By meadow paths where once you would stroll
In the flush of day?

I fancy the beasts and flowers there beguiled
By a visitation
That casts no shadow, a friend whose mild
Inquisitive glance lights with compassion,
Beyond the tomb, on all of this wild
And humbled creation.

It’s hard to believe a spirit could die
Of such generous glow,
Or to doubt that somewhere a bird-sharp eye
Still broods on the capers of men below,
A stern voice asks the Immortals why
They should plague us so.

Dear poet, wherever you are, I greet you.
Much irony, wrong,
Innocence you’d find here to tease or entreat you,
And many the fate-fires have tempered strong,
But none that in ripeness of soul could meet you
Or magic of song.

Great brow, frail form—gone.  Yet you abide
In the shadow and sheen,
All the mellowing traits of a countryside
That nursed your tragi-comical scene;
And in us, warmer-hearted and brisker-eyed
Since you have been.

C. Day-Lewis

Week 240: Walking Away, by C. Day-Lewis

I tend to think of Cecil Day-Lewis (1904-1972) as the archetypal career poet: his work accomplished, urbane, but a little manufactured, a little safe, not often charged with the excitement that real poems bring, that sense that something not entirely under the poet’s control has taken him or her by the scruff of the neck and said ‘Oi! You! Listen up!’. But I do very much like this wise, empathic piece that must surely resonate with anyone who has ever been a parent, and if it should prove in the end that a poet’s fate is to be remembered for just one poem, well, that most of us should be so lucky.

Walking Away

It is eighteen years ago, almost to the day –
A sunny day with leaves just turning,
The touch-lines new-ruled – since I watched you play
Your first game of football, then, like a satellite
Wrenched from its orbit, go drifting away

Behind a scatter of boys. I can see
You walking away from me towards the school
With the pathos of a half-fledged thing set free
Into a wilderness, the gait of one
Who finds no path where the path should be.

That hesitant figure, eddying away
Like a winged seed loosened from its parent stem,
Has something I never quite grasp to convey
About nature’s give-and-take – the small, the scorching
Ordeals which fire one’s irresolute clay.

I have had worse partings, but none that so
Gnaws at my mind still.  Perhaps it is roughly
Saying what God alone could perfectly show –
How selfhood begins with a walking away,
And love is proved in the letting go.

C. Day-Lewis