My literary nemesis, as I like to call him, Thomas Hardy will have the honour of being read today. I’m not going to get into my love/hate for this man, he is a really good writer, he just writes characters that completely piss me off (as if on purpose). After Jude the Obscure received such critique when it was first published, Hardy refused to write another novel (thank heaven, although by the time he got to Jude his writing had improved to the extent of not making me violent) and focused instead on poetry. Which is a good thing, since I greatly prefer his poetry to his novels. It’s quite amazing how concise the writing in his poetry is compared to his novels.
But enough about that, and onto today’s poem:
We stood by a pond that winter day,
And the sun was white, as though chidden of God,
And a few leaves lay on the starving sod,
--They had fallen from an ash, and were gray.
Your eyes on me were as eyes that rove
Over tedious riddles solved years ago;
And some words played between us to and fro--
On which lost the more by our love.
The smile on your mouth was the deadest thing
Alive enough to have strength to die;
And a grin of bitterness swept thereby
Like an ominous bird a-wing….
Since then, keen lessons that love deceives,
And wrings with wrong, have shaped to me
Your face, and the God-curst sun, and a tree,
And a pond edged with grayish leaves.
I love this. Just absolutely love it. The reason I chose this for today is because of the lines “The smile on your mouth was the deadest thing / Alive enough to have strength to die”. That second line gets me every time, it’s so heartbreakingly beautiful.
In a way, I am grateful to the stuffy British population of the late 19th century, for without their religious zeal, this perfection may never have been created. And they said nothing good ever came from the burning of books*.
*Some Bishop allegedly burned his copy of Jude the Obscure.