Week 259: Winter Nightfall, by Robert Bridges

Robert Seymour Bridges (1844-1930) was a Grand Old Man of English letters in the early twentieth century – indeed, he was Poet Laureate from 1913 to 1930 – and his work was still to be found in the Georgian anthologies that dominated the schoolroom when I was young. I would guess that he is little read now, though I seem to remember Yvor Winters, an American critic notable for the independence of his judgments, being an advocate of his work. I think this poem makes an interesting comparison with Frost’s ‘An Old Man’s Winter Night’ (see week 14). Bridges’ is a perfectly competent poem: it has form, it has atmosphere, it has compassion, but to my mind Frost’s is by some way the better piece: it just seems more urgent, more alive, and as so often with a Frost poem there is a wildness prowling at its edges which Bridges’ neat rhymes and slightly mechanical rhythms fence out. Just my opinion – see what you think. 

Winter Nightfall

The day begins to droop,–
Its course is done:
But nothing tells the place
Of the setting sun.

The hazy darkness deepens,
And up the lane
You may hear, but cannot see,
The homing wain.

An engine pants and hums
In the farm hard by:
Its lowering smoke is lost
In the lowering sky.

The soaking branches drip,
And all night through
The dropping will not cease
In the avenue.

A tall man there in the house
Must keep his chair:
He knows he will never again
Breathe the spring air:

His heart is worn with work;
He is giddy and sick
If he rise to go as far
As the nearest rick:

He thinks of his morn of life,
His hale, strong years;
And braves as he may the night
Of darkness and tears.

Robert Bridges