A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Friday, 6 March 2009

The Dew-fall Hawk

Leafing through my copy of Thomas Hardy: Selected Poems (edited by Walford Davies, Everyman's Library, 1982), I find I still like many of the poems very much, but this one remains my firm favourite:


When the Present has latched its postern behind my tremulous stay,
And the May month flaps its glad green leaves like wings,
Delicate-filmed as new-spun silk, will the neighbours say,
'He was a man who used to notice such things'?

If it be in the dusk when, like an eyelid's soundless blink,
The dewfall-hawk comes crossing the shades to alight
Upon the wind-warped upland thorn, a gazer may think,
'To him this must have been a familiar sight.'

If I pass during some nocturnal blackness, mothy and warm,
When the hedgehog travels furtively over the lawn,
One may say, 'He strove that such innocent creatures should come to no harm,
But he could do little for them; and now he is gone.'

If, when hearing that I have been stilled at last, they stand at the door,
Watching the full-starred heavens that winter sees,
Will this thought rise on those who will meet my face no more,
'He was one who had an eye for such mysteries'?

And will any say when my bell of quittance is heard in the gloom,
And a crossing breeze cuts a pause in its outrollings,
Till they rise again, as they were a new bell's boom,
'He hears it not now, but used to notice such things'?

Firstly there's the whole, luscious sound of it - "glad green leaves", "delicate-filmed as new-spun silk", "dewfall-hawk", "mothy and warm"...
Then there's the poignancy of it - Hardy is talking about a time when he will no longer be there to "notice" and witness the delights and "mysteries" of nature, and, by extension, to describe and celebrate these things in his writings.
And finally there's the unanswered question - "...will the neighbours say, 'He was a man who used to notice such things'?" Hardy hopes the answer is "yes" - and he would probably feel fairly sure of this answer, especially since all of his novels and many of his poems had already been published before this particular poem was written. But can we ever be sure of our own legacy, and whether or how we will live on in the minds and memories of others? Will our thoughts and actions, will our love of nature and "innocent creatures", will what we may like to think of as our keen senses and sensibilities - will they actually be remembered? Many prolific writers even, famous in their day, are now forgotten...
(I quoted briefly from this poem once before in my post Glad Green Leaves.)


The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Now that's just as fine a poem as I've heard in a long, long time—the interplay of point-on nature bits with the hoping of a legacy of having been one who saw—who noticed such things; who, looking in proper wonderment upon the winter heavens, would be thought to have "had an eye for such mysteries'?"

I really like this.

The Solitary Walker said...

Glad I've introduced you to it, Grizzled. I had a feeling you might like it.

Raph G. Neckmann said...

I hadn't read this before, and really appreciate it.

(The last time I read any Hardy was at school. I hadn't thought of his works much since, until last week when two of my closest friends, who don't know each other, mentioned they were re-reading him and urged me to do so! Is this the collective unconscious at work?)

I love 'mothy and warm' and 'when the hedgehog travels furtively over the lawn.'

I like to hope that I may be remembered for these things, and even for introducing others to noticing such things. But having 'an eye for such mysteries' is so huge a part of life that the desire to be remembered dwindles aside compared with the wonder of the mysteries themselves.

Anonymous said...

I love this poem and have read it many times since you drew my attention to it in a reply to one of my posts. Thanks for that, and thanks for reminding me and giving me another opportunity to read it again.

Rachel Fox said...

I like the 'bell of quittance'!

am said...

Catching up time. Good to stop here in the Midlands again. It just occurred to me that Hardy's stories are a form of Walking Blues. Walking Egdon Heath Blues. Walking Down The Line. The two Hardy poems you posted set a steady pace for the beginning of this day. While I was reading them, I could hear William Blake, E.E. Cummings and Emily Dickinson and Bob Dylan walking not far away.

There was hail here at 6:30 a.m. Most of it has since melted. Birdsong here, too. Snow in the foothills. After all these years, I've finally grown to love the lush Pacific Northwest landscape but in a different way than I've always loved the austerity of the California landscape and oceanscape.

Jay said...

That's a lovely poem, and it made me think immediately of my Dad. I often think to myself, 'Dad would have loved this' or 'Dad would have been fascinated by that'. I think it most often outdoors, because he was a naturalist, and most often of all when gazing at some small scurrying insect, because his special interest was in beetles.

That was not all he was, of course, and many other things do remind me of him. But though he was a skilled printer and manager, and is still remembered by his workforce with affection, the natural world is where his heart lay, and I think he would be pleased - as Hardy would - that this is what he is remembered best for.

The Solitary Walker said...

The collective unconscious often seems at work in Blogworld, Raph. There's a sympathetic web of connection across the globe. What's at the front of blog-consciousness in, say, Canada or Australia, will often be picked up, subliminally or otherwise, in, say, the UK or New Zealand, or vice versa. I like the sentiment of your comment's last sentence.

BtB - I'm so glad you enjoyed reading again this poem, which strikes a chord with so many nature lovers and observers.

Rachel - I'm suddenly reminded of those bells at school signalling the end of the school day at half-past 3...

Am - Hardy, though essentially a 19th century author, always seems to me poised half-way between the 19th century of Dickens and the 2oth century of Lawrence, between Victorian and Modern, between social realism and Freudian psycholgy.

A brief hail shower here today too. Still on the cold side.

How nice to talk of your Dad in that affectionate, loving way, Jay. He seems to have found his true heart's delight in the natural world.