Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Thomas Hardy: Two Christmas poems

Two Christmas poems by Hardy-- or rather I should say two very different Christmas poems by Hardy.  In spite of his reputation for gloom and despair, mostly fueled by his later novels, especially Tess and Jude, the second is just as typical of Hardy as is the first.

A Christmas Ghost-Story

South of the line, inland from far Durban, 
A mouldering soldier lies--your countryman.
Awry and doubled up are his gray  bones,
And on the breeze his puzzled phantom moans
Nightly to clear Canopus: "I would know
By whom and when the All-Earth-gladdening Law
Of Peace, brought in by the Man Crucified,
Was ruled to be inept, and set aside?
And what of logic or of truth appears
In tacking 'Anno Domini' to the years?
Near twenty-hundred  liveried thus have hied,
But tarries yet the Cause for which He died."

Christmas-eve 1899

-- Thomas Hardy --
from  The Works of Thomas Hardy


The rain-shafts splintered on me
   As despondently I strode;
The twilight gloomed upon me
   And bleared the blank high-road.
Each bush gave forth, when blown on
   By gusts in shower and shower,
A sigh, as it were sown on
   In handfuls by a sower.

A cheerful voice called, nigh me,
   "A merry Christmas, friend!"--
There rose a figure by me,
   Walking with townward trend,
A sodden tramp's who, breaking
   Into thin song, bore straight
Ahead, direction taking 
   Toward the Casuals' gate. 

-- Thomas Hardy --
from  The Works of Thomas Hardy

After reading the second poem, I couldn't help but think of Hardy's "The Darkling Thrush," which I had already posted once before, but I think it deserves at least one reminder.

The Darkling Thrush

I leant upon a coppice gate
…..When Frost was spectre-gray,
And Winter's dregs made desolate
…..The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
…..Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
…..Had sought their household fires.

The land's sharp features seemed to be
…..The Century's corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
…..The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
…..Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
…..Seemed fervorless as I.

At once a voice arose among
…..The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
…..Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small
…..In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
…..Upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings
…..Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
…..Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
…..His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
…..And I was unaware.

-- Thomas Hardy --


  1. A hopeful Hardy - I had no idea! Those last two poems really lift the spirits. Thanks for showing me that Hardy wasn't as one-dimensional in his writing as I had thought.

  2. Cheryl,

    That's the problem for Hardy--he's best known for his last two novels--Jude and Tess--both of which feature very sad endings.

    His earlier novels are quite different. One is a melodrama in which a young lover desperately tries to prevent his love from making a bad marriage. Another, _The Woodlanders_, is really a rural romance in which the hero competes for the hand of the village beauty with two other suitors.

    His middle novels tend to have mixed endings with some characters gaining happiness while others fail. It is only in his last novels that the endings are sad.

  3. Nice collection of short Christmas poems by thomas hardy. i love them both. Thanks!

  4. Anne Walker,

    Thanks for stopping by. I'm glad you enjoyed the poems. That time of the year is approaching, isn't it?