The Altered All, Thomas Hardy, The Going

two flowers
Dahlia and Clematis on the back step, 28August

Last week I was reading, very slowly, Thomas Hardy’s poem ‘The Going’. Search ‘Hardy’ for previous blog entries. I hadn’t finished and so here it is, and if you are joining as a new reader, give it a good slow read aloud, and actually, if you are coming back, do that too, because we want to get the poem live in our minds, not leave it dead in our memory:

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’d got to the point where I was just about to start reading stanza 4.

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.

This stanza, joy-filled, excited, rises from the misery of the previous, when the ‘blankness’ of her absence overwhelms Hardy. Suddenly, as he turns from the empty view,  here she is in the beginning of their time together. The power of this woman, on horseback, musing and eyeing him, feels a delight to him. The stanza is  full of  sexual energy and feels drenched in light. I don’t know where I get that from, except perhaps those ‘red-veined rocks far west’. Life seems an unknown, and full of possibility, full of feeling. It feels fast, it’s moving, that unrolling – a like a carpet, a bolt of cloth? – slightly out of control? But all this heat and energy disappears as Hardy comes back to the present with another question – another why – for her. Or is he now speaking only to himself?

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.’

I wonder how long that ‘ latterly’ has lasted.  The period seems connected to the death of their relationship. They have lived though a period when that excitement and energy  was ‘long dead’. They did not even speak. They did not remember ‘those days long dead’.

Now he cannot forget her, dead.

But he doesn’t say ‘dead’, he says ‘vanishing’ as if even know he cannot bear to remember the truth of her going. She is dead, in reality, now, but he can only use the word ‘dead’ for the long-ago days when they were together.  That person who dies, who vanished… Was that her?  He can imagine a different relation suddenly, where they could speak to one another. Instead of ‘Why, then, latterly did we not speak’ he imagines a kindly warmth between them that might have helped to take them back:

                 We might have said,
‘In this bright spring weather
We’ll visit together
Those places that once we visited.’

But that did not happen. She did not speak and neither did he. They lost their chances. Now she has gone, and  the great going has altered ‘all’. When we first read that word ‘all’ in stanza 2, we didn’t know its import. We didn’t know what ‘all’ contained.  Now we know it was the possibility of potential change that was lost, and in a sense, his future. Has her death killed him?

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!

He turns away from her, her absence, his memory of her. That ‘well, well’ is like a man talking to himself, turning back to the acceptance of reality. And what he has to accept is that ‘all’s past amend/Unchangeable’. Death, as  Shakespeare said, closes all:  the same ‘all’ we saw in stanza 2: everything that might have happened  or  everything that might have changed if life had continued. Now ‘all’ is unchangeable.

Then we come to these three most striking words: ‘it must go.’

This is a sentence, and yet it seems to have almost no constituent parts – a subject, ‘it’: but what is ‘it’? and a verb, ‘must go’ and  there’s no object.

Does he mean the past?

Does he mean the chance of change?

Does he mean the lost possibility of  ‘we might have said’?

The verb is ‘go’ and the poem is called  ‘The Going’, and much of it has been about her going without notice, so does he mean his relationship to her?  Why ‘it’?  I’m wondering if  ‘it’ could ‘it’ refer to ‘all’?

I do not know if there is a line, a half line, with so much desolation in it anywhere. We have reached  the nub of his pain:

I seem but a dead man held on end
To sink down soon. . . .

This extraordinary image of this man –  like a weight suspended in water –  drowning – but like something that should be horizontal, should be dead, sums up his state of being. He is wrong. He is all wrong.  And now he turns once more to her:

 O you could not know
That such swift fleeing
No soul foreseeing-
Not even I—would undo me so!

Is that ‘you could know not’  forgiving? is it crying, ‘o’. Is it taking the initial sense blame away from her for ‘fleeing’ – see how the verb of her going has changed. Now it seems she had something to run away from – him.

Even he, the person who now suffers  this guilt and loss, could not imagine that he would be so undone by her going. Her going has altered ‘all’. but there’s only him left to be altered. He feels the pain of change after the event. Count the number of times he says  ‘why’ in this poem. Why. Why. Why. The first two whys are for her – why did you give no hint, why do you make me leave.

The third is addressed to both of them:

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.’

This was something they both might have done but neither did. And he is left with that burden of remorse.  Is Thomas Hardy avoiding the word ‘I’ ?

It comes in the last line, in a sightly hidden clause, ‘not even I’.  You couldn’t know, no one could, not even I. Know what ? That I would be altered by your going. That’s the altered all.  And he knows it.

 

 

Thomas Hardy not a man  you’d want to be in love with but if you were he’d write about your failings & his feelings very well

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Gorgeous  denim-coloured osteospermum’s in Angie’s garden

I’ve been reading, slowly, meditatively,  Thomas Hardy’s poem ‘The Going’ here for most of the week:

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!

We’d got to this point – Hardy, at first complaining, and later seeing his own part in both the silence and the loss, realising everything is now altered. That everything includes the inner state of himself.  Now we come, in stanza 3, to the strong presence of  the woman in his altered consciousness –

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!

There is still an air of complaint here, his question, why, is more than a straight-forward questioning. The querulousness comes from that ‘why do you?’ ‘Why do you?’ is almost a stock phrase from an unhappy relationship, isn’t it? Or an unhappy moment in a good relationship?  It is a rhterorical complaining question: why do you always walk upstairs with muddy shoes on? Why do you always forget to start the dishwasher?

Is the word ‘make’ also part of the complaint? As an action of the woman, it is so active compared to the passive presence at the beginning of the poem. Except, as I look again, was it ever passive? No – I’m misremembering. She acted decisively – she was quick , calm and indifferent in her leaving of him. He feels hurt, the victim. Perhaps that points us to the double edge of this verb, make, which more than intimates he doesn’t want to leave the house, she’s got some unhappy power over him. To make someone do something is to assert power or force. To be made to do something is to feel forced, over-pwered by anothers will.

But Hardy is a poet of complex emotion. Look at the word ‘breath’ in line two, which changes that  querulousness into hope:

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

The hope soon goes and he is left with bad feeling: nothing, empty.

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!

She was once – many times, so often – there in this spot ‘at the end of the alley of bending boughs’ and I assume he saw her there, then, and did not follow her. There was a distance. There is a disjunction of time and space. Then – before she left – he migth have followed her, spoken to herbut he did not. Now he does follow her – or something, his own guilt, perhaps his longing, his hope  – but she is no longer there.  He is left with nothing, the yawning blankness, the sick feeling.

I always think, I’m so glad I didnt know Tom Hardy as  living man.  I dislike so much about  him, particularly his relations with women, but also with other things – his own powerful despair (last time I read Jude The Obscure, maybe fifteen years years, I swore  ‘I am never going to read this book ever again.’ Stuck to that, so far.) Yes, he drives me mad. And yet –

There is much I admire, love in the poetry and I believe that means also in the man. I do not know another poet who is so good at nailing  complex, real, contradictory feelings with words, and those feelings being so often feelings one has in intimate relationships with others. He may not be a man  you’d want to be in love with  but if you were you could rest assured he would write about your failings and his feeings very well. Who else can write that  massive blankness of  lost feeling regretted?

And now, as he reels from that feeling he gloriously remembers  her, before  they split:

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.

But I must stop now. I started late today because  I was reading for long time  before I got to my desk and missed the quiet time in which I usually write  and have had a lot of interruptions and  got work piling up around me…

Next stanza tomorrow. Good, though, isn’t it?

Slow reading: Thomas Hardy, ‘The Going’

long border 2.JPG
Long Border at Calderstones Park  still lfiring on all cylinders, 23 August

For the past few days I’ve been reading Thomas Hardy’s poem, ‘The Going’. Yesterday I’d read most of stanza 2 but reading  that post over just now, I realised that I hadn’t finished it. I’d missed the last couple of lines. Welcome to life with the slowest reader in the universe.  Let’s read the poem aloud again now, to get going, nice and slow and paying attention to the punctuation – remember when you are reading aloud you are always scanning the next bit of punctuation, a place to take a breath:

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!

 

We’re going to start again in stanza 2, so let’s just read that again to gret the lovely rhythm of it:

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.

I want to think about rhythm and line endings for a moment,  something the poem seems to demand, so exceptionally powerful is it in those areas. Look at the first two lines, where the meaning fits into the line. The commas hold a clause, the clause (‘never to bid goodbye’) holds a complete unit of thought or feeling, and is  completed, marked by, the finality of the line ending. Having thought/felt ‘never to bid goodbye’, Hardy  can only close the feeling and then start again, comma, new line: ‘or lip me the softest call’.

Then it seems as if the same thing is going to happen again – he’s still thinking of her part in it, blaming her, really, in a gently complaining sort of way. It’s his third  thought/feeling of this sort: ‘or utter a wish for a word’. But this time  it does not  end there, instead of commas+ line-ending, we get comma and a new bit of thought. The dimensions shift, the world moved,  and it flashes through his mind ‘there’s me (as well as her )’. It comes out as a parallel time-thought, ‘while I’.

And now the thought doesn’t fit the line. There’s no comma, we have to keep going with it, following the twist of his thought process.

                                                  while I
Saw morning harden upon the wall,
Unmoved, unknowing
That your great going
Had place that moment, and altered all.

Instead of questioning her, he zooms out and seems to see himself as if from above, somewhere else, watching himself watch dawn break by the light it casts on the wall. Yesterday we noticed the verb ‘harden’ and its connection to ‘unmoved’  – but I’m drifting off course, let’s jut stay with line endings for a moment.

‘Saw morning harden upon the wall,’ is a unit of sense, connecting back to the hinge of ‘while I’, but not necessarily connecting forward. So once we again we get the comma and line ending to mark an  end of  bit of thought. The next line  is monumentally strong, like to great columns raised up: ‘unmoved, unknowing’. As a line it is both complete and incomplete.

The unit of sense/paraphrase is something like ‘ while I remained  unmoved because I did not know you’d gone.’ The sense of blame shifts. Who are you, to only be moved once you know? Why were you not moved before?

‘Unknowing’ has no  comma and the sense  takes us over the line end, but it doesn’t have to, those two words could stand alone. They are the essence, the heart, of the poem.  It is like a shorthand for the feeling which is drawn out into comprehensible meaning in the bigger clause:

                 unknowing
That your great going
Had place that moment,

Just look at that as a clause, a unit of meaning. Hardy is as  precise as surgeon here, cutting away his other feelings to reveal that  hurtful fact: there was moment when you went,  and I did not know.

‘Unknowing’ is a great coinage ( if it is a coinage – Wordsworth might have  used such a word), that implies something like  ‘I did know but I didn’t want to know and deliberately let myself forget’.

The final clause in this stanza leads to whats going to happen next in the poem and sheds light on what’s just come before. ‘And altered all’. The meaning might be paraphrased as: how can it be that something big happened (you went) and everything was changed at a particular point in time and I was there awake and did not know?

But how did everything alter? The next stanza puts the departed person into the present tense and I’d say that in itself is part of the great alteration. In the first stanza  Hardy says  she’s gone,

Where I could not follow
With wing of swallow
To gain one glimpse of you ever anon!

I seem to have missed thinking about that when I read the first stanza!

Am I not going slowly enough?

I should have asked, where is such place? The wings, the great swoops of those swallow flights in the sky, put me in mind of angels. She’s dead, of course. But here she is now, almost present:

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!

But that is my time up for the day.  I had wanted to look at the rhymes, but will have to save that for another day. What a tremendous and lovely poem it is … more tomorrow.

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. 

fern  or ammi.JPG
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.

 

What to read in a Shared Reading group: Thomas Hardy’s ‘The Going’

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Geranium ‘Rozanne’ doing well on the back door step 22 August

It’s a long  while since I read Thomas Hardy.  This morning I’ve reread some poems I half-remember from previous readings, long ago, when I used to teach his work in my Continuing Education classes.  Some of those poems are more than half-remembered, I know them inside and out, probably by rote, because at some point they mattered so much that they became part of me, written in the heart, felt along the blood.  ‘The Voice’, ‘The Self-Unseeing’, ‘The Haunter’, ‘Shadow on the Stone’, ‘In the Time of Breaking of Nations’. Occasionally I’ve read a poem of his in Shared Reading, but I can’t remember if I’ve ever read this one in group. The ‘Poems of 1912-13’ from which this is taken are strong medicine. You’d use them with caution.

So it’s some time since I’ve read today’s poem ‘The Going’, one of those which seem to have become part of my body my being, I know it so well.

My most recent connection to this poem comes through Jeanette Winterson’s writing about it  in her terrifically moving memoir, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal. (A great read for a group, too). I can’t find a copy of that wonderful book here this morning – perhaps I’ve given mine away again, so I can’t look it up and give you chapter and verse. Only to say that at a time of great distress, following the breakdown of yet another relationship, there the poem is, in Jeanette’s head, waiting to be read, or said, repeated, recited or whatever it is we do with poems we know inside out when they rise into consciousness and may or may not be spoken aloud.

There are things you can look up about Hardy and the biographical details of these poems. I’d say, don’t do that. Or if you must do it,  do it, and then read the poems as if you’ve forgotten all about it all. He wrote them as poems. They were published as stand alone items. Understanding them is not about knowing to whom he writing,  or where  they were standing, or what she wore, but about entering the human emotional experience he captures in language, and entering that experience and making it real with our own  knowledge and experience.

Let’s read it now:

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!

Wonderful, sad, deep reality of loss. Read it slowly and let the words sink in before we begin to look more closely at the stanzas.  In a group I’d let the poem rest there for a while, and let people respond to it in whatever way they felt before perhaps reading again. It’s a big poem and there’s a lot to absorb.  Then I’d be anything to get some group members voices into the room – maybe ‘what do you make of it?’ and someone will answer something like, ‘He’s battered, isn’t he? He’s done in.’  or surprisingly, wonderfully, someone will say ‘Brilliant that he can write it out, though, isn’t it? When you feel like that and it’s all locked in… that’s what does you in.’

And after a while as we  feel the reality of some of this powerful feeling, I’ll say, let’s read the first one or two stanzas again shall we?

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!

 

It begins as if part of a conversation and  perhaps a complaint. It’s very easy, this conversation, feels  as  if the two people are used to each other, are intimate. It just begins, like someone walking into a room and no need for any sort of introduction, ‘Why did you give no hint?’

But then there’s  time in this – ‘that night’ and ‘the morrow’ – and I ‘d ask here what the time-frame feels like – short of long? Is this way after the event? or days after or weeks , months?

‘That night’ makes it feel as if it is some time again. ‘That’ is a word that points to a particular point in the past. Shall we just look at the opening four lines?

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

It seems even more like a complaint than it did before. ‘Why?’ asks Hardy. The person he is talking to has gone – quickly and calmly – and with no notice, and to him this feels like indifference. The departed person might have been, from the language at this point, a lodger! They have closed up their ‘term’.

It’s interesting that two specific times are mentioned – ‘night’ and ‘morrow’.

This could have been a whole sentence. And when you are reading it, it does feel as if it is a whole chunk of meaning, yet Hardy doesn’t put a full-stop in, but carries on, and that onward rushing to what comes next transforms what we’ve just read – we glance back : he loves her!

Where I could not follow
With wing of swallow
To gain one glimpse of you ever anon!

The swallow-like swoop of the rhythm here does something, lifts and drops you as you read. We know we are not reading the story of a lodger, a tenancy. The desire to follow, the uplift of swallow, tells me, this is love.

So a lover’s complaint, in the old broken-heart sense. You went! you didn’t tell me! and the big wail: why?

Let’s read the next verse now, because the rush of the not quite visible swallow’s wing pulls us along with Hardy’ feeling:

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.

She went without saying goodbye, or allowing him to say it. And he uses the words ‘lip’ and ‘softest’ as he thinks of  her, so that we think of kisses –  though that word does not, can not, even enter the poem. She did not call him, no nor ask him to speak to her.

And while this  ‘great going’, her death, was taking place, he was somewhere else, unaware, and did not know and did not feel:

while I
Saw morning harden upon the wall,
Unmoved, unknowing

Oh dear, time’s up . Gosh, talk about a flow state. More tomorrow.