For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move. ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Mechanic Speech And Mind-Chains

These are 2 of my favourite Hardy poems. The 1st is about the death of youthful romanticism and idealism - but paradoxically the poem's very existence, its form and expression, breathes fresh life into them. The 2nd poem is about the freedom of solitude, the liberation of mind and soul bestowed by the hills, compared with the memory-laden lowlands and the mean-spirited towns. Here, on the heights, one can keep ghosts at bay, and be rid of clanking "mind-chains". I have a feeling both of these poems may strike a chord with some of you.

Shut Out That Moon

Close up the casement, draw the blind,
Shut out that stealing moon,
She wears too much the guise she wore
Before our lutes were strewn
With years-deep dust, and names we read
On a white stone were hewn.


Step not forth on the dew-dashed lawn
To view the Lady's Chair,
Immense Orion's glittering form,
The Less and Greater Bear:
Stay in; to such sights we were drawn
When faded ones were fair.

Brush not the bough for midnight scents
That come forth lingeringly,
And wake the same sweet sentiments
They breathed to you and me
When living seemed a laugh, and love
All it was said to be.

Within the common lamp-lit room
Prison my eyes and thought;
Let dingy details crudely loom,
Mechanic speech be wrought:
Too fragrant was Life's early bloom,
Too tart the fruit it brought!


1904

Wessex Heights

There are some heights in Wessex, shaped as if by a kindly hand
For thinking, dreaming, dying on, and at crises when I stand,
Say, on Ingpen Beacon eastward, or on Wylls-Neck westwardly,
I seem where I was before my birth, and after death may be.

In the lowlands I have no comrade, not even the lone man's friend -
Her who suffereth long and is kind; accepts what he is too weak to mend:
Down there they are dubious and askance; there nobody thinks as I,
But mind-chains do not clank where one's next neighbour is the sky.

In the towns I am tracked by phantoms having weird detective ways -
Shadows of beings who fellowed with myself of earlier days:
They hang about at places, and they say harsh heavy things -
Men with a wintry sneer, and women with tart disparagings.

Down there I seem to be false to myself, my simple self that was,
And is not now, and I see him watching, wondering what crass cause
Can have merged him into such a strange continuator as this,
Who yet has something in common with himself, my chrysalis.

I cannot go to the great grey Plain; there's a figure against the moon,
Nobody sees it but I, and it makes my breast beat out of tune;
I cannot go to the tall-spired town, being barred by the forms now passed
For everybody but me, in whose long vision they stand there fast.

There's a ghost at Yell'ham Bottom chiding loud at the fall of the night,
There's a ghost in Froom-side Vale, thin lipped and vague, in a shroud of white,
There is one in the railway-train whenever I do not want it near,
I see its profile against the pane, saying what I would not hear.

As for one rare fair woman, I am now but a thought of hers,
I enter her mind and another thought succeeds me that she prefers;
Yet my love for her in its fulness she herself even did not know;
Well, time cures hearts of tenderness, and now I can let her go.

So I am found on Ingpen Beacon, or on Wylls-Neck to the west,
Or else on homely Bulbarrow, or little Pilsdon Crest,
Where men have never cared to haunt, nor women have walked with me,
And ghosts then keep their distance; and I know some liberty.


1896

6 comments:

Bella said...

Wow... these poems are brilliant. The 2nd one had an almost Shakespearean feel to it. I really, really liked both - and on repeated readings I like them more.

I like the use of the word 'death' of idealism...this brings me greater understanding to how one navigates these things in life and that like all deaths, there is a journey of grief with denial, anger etc and the final 5th stage being acceptance...hmm, acceptance or resignation..

jay said...

I like the first one. He sounds embittered, or maybe just disillusioned, but the poem itself is quite wistful.

The second is too long and convoluted to have the same impact for me, but I did like this bit -

"I seem where I was before my birth, and after death may be."

I've felt that myself in lonely places.

The Weaver of Grass said...

I did not know that first poem Robert - what a powerful one it is - and how sad a reflection on a relationship that has gone sour.
Thanks for bringing it to my notice.

Bella said...

I didn't read it as a relationship gone sour...? but I more than likely missed it.

The Solitary Walker said...

I think it's both specifically about a soured relationship (his long marriage to Emma Gifford) and more generally about the fading of R(r)omanticism.

The Solitary Walker said...

But, as I hinted in the post, the very fact the poem was written, and exists as the lovely thing it is, overcomes to some extent the disillusion of its sentiment. Art as solace?