A pattern of meaning, arranged over a hundred years ago by a dead man, is now live in my mind. I am thinking another human’s thoughts. 

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What’s this lovely leaf growing among the Japanese Anemones?

Yesterday I started ‘The Going’ by Thomas Hardy.

Here it is:

The Going

Why did you give no hint that night
That quickly after the morrow’s dawn,
And calmly, as if indifferent quite,
You would close your term here, up and be gone
Where I could not follow
With wing of swallow
To gain one glimpse of you ever anon!

Never to bid good-bye,
Or lip me the softest call,
Or utter a wish for a word, while I
Saw morning harden upon the wall,
Unmoved, unknowing
That your great going
Had place that moment, and altered all.

Why do you make me leave the house
And think for a breath it is you I see
At the end of the alley of bending boughs
Where so often at dusk you used to be;
Till in darkening dankness
The yawning blankness
Of the perspective sickens me!

You were she who abode
By those red-veined rocks far West,
You were the swan-necked one who rode
Along the beetling Beeny Crest,
And, reining nigh me,
Would muse and eye me,
While Life unrolled us its very best.

Why, then, latterly did we not speak,
Did we not think of those days long dead,
And ere your vanishing strive to seek
That time’s renewal?  We might have said,
‘In this bright spring weather
We’ll visit together
Those places that once we visited.’

Well, well!  All’s past amend,
Unchangeable.  It must go.
I seem but a dead man held on end
To sink down soon. . . . O you could not know
That such swift fleeing
No soul foreseeing-
Not even I—would undo me so!

I’ve had the rhythms of the poem, and some of its phrases,  in the back of my mind for the past twenty-four hours, and I’ve been thinking about what it is to know a poem and have it stored in your mind.  It’s as if re-reading it has switched it on – it had been there, as it has been for decades, invisible and not in consciousness, but present, like something packed away in storage. Now I’ve opened the cupboard and taken and shaken it out. Or like a circuit in a transistor (for  younger readers…that is  a form of ancient  pre-digital technology) it was  there but not  in use: once you throw the switch, it lights up. As if – the stored  duvet, the dark circuit – they were now back to life.

A pattern of meaning, arranged over a hundred years ago by a dead man, is now live in my mind. I am thinking another human’s thoughts.

Because they are another human’s thoughts, I have to  rest my way into them by staying there a while, with each word, each word-cluster, each clause, sentence, line ending, rhyme, stanza. Thomas Hardy  did that when he composed this thought-feeling-transfer for me, now I have to copy, in reverse, his actions, unpacking  the pattern into consciousness.  That’s what I call reading. That’s why, as it’s best, reading must be slow.

I had about got through the first stanza yesterday and was some way into the second. So let’s start there.

Never to bid good-bye,
Or lip me the softest call,
Or utter a wish for a word, while I
Saw morning harden upon the wall,
Unmoved, unknowing
That your great going
Had place that moment, and altered all.

First, I want to think about what Hardy has written here – the language pattern he has created – but then I want – if there is time this morning – to think about what it might be doing at my end. Of course, a lot of that is guess-work, or perhaps intuition.

I’d said that the mention of lips had told me that although in the first stanza the person who has left seems almost a tenant, a lodger, someone who has merely  left the place, in fact, Hardy loves or loved this person.  A tenant would never ‘lip me the softest call.’ But I need to read those opening three lines more closely. I am entirely uncertain in what  kind of time zone ‘never’ exists. The poem’s conversation is taking place – Hardy talking to the departed one  – in a future after her departure. ‘Never to bid goodbye’ is  a closed possibility for ever. Yet he is talking to her, or the memory of , her,or talking to himself. He is living with, experiencing now, in that word ‘never’, the permanence of death, her ‘great going.’ But it seems mixed up with a kind of domestic, every day irritation like ‘Why didn’t you put the bin out?’

The time zone worry returns in line three, when Hardy positions himself  in a parallel universe:

Never to bid good-bye,
Or lip me the softest call,
Or utter a wish for a word, while I
Saw morning harden upon the wall,
Unmoved,

Two different universes seem to exist here. In one, she would lip him the softest call and/or utter a  wish for word (from him?) and he would be there to receive it. This is the universe of his longing and remorse, an ‘if only’ universe.

And here is the other, parallel, in another room, perhaps  on the other side of a wall between them,

while I
Saw morning harden upon the wall,
Unmoved,

She did not call, and he did not care. He was, at that moment, before he knew she had gone, unmoved by the  wall (literal or metaphorical) between them. A day like any other dawned for him, a hardening. I’m thinking of Lear, wondering about the unkindness of his daughters:

‘let them anatomize Regan. See what breeds about her heart. Is there any cause in nature that makes these hard hearts?’ (King Lear, Act 3, Scene 5)

Hardy’s ‘harden’ is not only on the wall, but in him. The word connects with ‘unmoved’ but then the connection slips to ‘unknowing’. The knowing of her going  makes all the difference to him, and alters all.

Her death changes his mind. He is no longer hardened. He can – am I pushing it? – now hear her lipping him the softest call.

When I receive  Hardy’s  thought transmission into my mind and heart, how do I understand it?

I draw on my own experience, which is what lies on my side of our shared language. when I read this poem my activated feelings (are they thoughts of feelings? or a mixture of the two?) are largely about the death of my mother.

That’s a very different relationship to  Hardy’s. What connects us  is not biography – I don’t come from Dorset, live in a cottage or imagine stories like Jude The Obscure.  We’re connecting two different experiences, in both cases, deeply  personally-felt and the connection is at the deepest level – I have felt (something like) this. This is  empathy.

I’m still reading Hardy’s poem (still experiencing Hardy’s brain-heart map), but I am calling on my own experience to  activate feelings that match or touch or mirror his.

I say ‘I am calling’ but actually it is he who is doing the calling, thought the language and pattern of the poem. He calls my feeling up in me.  I read his story, but  I feel my feelings, I think I sort of borrow my feelings to illuminate his circuit.

Time’s up.  Another stanza tomorrow.

 

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