Thursday, November 17, 2011

Thomas Hardy: "At Day-Close in November"

Here's a poem by Thomas Hardy that I just discovered by accident. I opened up the book, The Works of Thomas Hardy, to the middle, approximately, and found this aptly named poem.

At Day-Close in November

The ten hours' light is abating,
And a late bird wings across,
Where the pines, like waltzers waiting,
Give their black heads a toss.

Beech leaves, that yellow the noon time,
Float past like specks in the eye;
I set every tree in my June time,
And now they obscure the sky.

And the children who ramble through here
Conceive that there never has been
A time when no tall tress grew here,
That none will in time be seen.

A simple little poem with some lines that I like: "Beech leaves, that yellow the noon time." I didn''t realize that "yellow" is a verb, as well as a noun. It's an apt use of it here. I also like "in my June time." Perhaps it's the ambiguity here. Did he mean he set the tree during June or during the June time of his own life? Or both?

And, of course, the last stanza where Hardy comments on the shortness of memory and also the inevitable transience of all creation. Those trees, which for the children have always been there, will be gone some day, something equally unthinkable for those children, and for us too. How much of what we see about us has "always been there" and will "always be there"?

I guess maybe this poem isn't quite that simple after all.


  1. hey fred! i really enjoy your blog and all the yummies therein. i've always enjoyed and am much stimulated by learning when it is not in a context of 'requirement.' do you mind listing what books, if any, you would put back on your list to read again (perhaps).

    happy thanksgiving, my friend.


  2. Flint,

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

    Which books are you referring to? Any books that I have read, or the ones I've listed in the column on the right?

  3. A melancholy poem, Fred. I liked it. I was thinking just the other day about a tree I'd planted inadvertently in the yard across the way where I used to live.

    I thought I was planting a medium hemlock, but over the years it's developed into a rather tall tree. I remind myself that long after I'm gone, unless someone chops it down, it will be the only reminder that I once lived here.

    Not much to do with the poem really.

  4. Yvette,

    Well, considering that the poem is about planting trees and memory, I think your comment does have something to do with the poem.

  5. It's set to music by English composer Benjamin Britten in his song cycle 'Winter Words'. It's a coldly atmospheric setting with a spooky piano accompaniment. It actually adds to the poem

  6. There's a musical setting of this by Benjamin Britten in his song cycle 'Winter Words' - easily found on Youtube. An atmospheric setting with a spooky piano accompaniment. Actually enhances the poem.

  7. Joe,

    Thanks for the information. I shall have to check it out.

  8. The first part of the last stanza, with its double negative, seems to say that the children realize that the trees have always been there; the last portion seems to say that the children also realize that the trees will someday be gone. That is very sad and I would have expected the poem to say the opposite. Am I interpreting this correctly?

  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

  10. Stephen,

    I honestly don't know. It certainly looks that way, but why would they first conceive that the trees have always been there and then that someday all will be gone. That sounds more like a perceptive adult thinking.

    I keep looking at the pronoun "none" in the last line. Does it refer to trees or the children?

    I find it interesting that a poem by Hardy generates more comments than most of my other posts. I might think about this for awhile.

  11. It means that the children believe that the trees have never not been here, i.e. they have always been here, and that they always will be here (never won't) -- but the syntax of the last bit is hard to work out!

  12. Anonymous,

    Could that "none" in the last line refer to the children?