Friday, June 27, 2014

Thomas Hardy: "I Have LIved With Shades"

Could this perhaps reflect Hardy's own doubts about his place in history?

"I Have Lived With Shades"
I have lived with Shades so long,
And talked to them so oft,
Since forth from cot and croft
I went mankind among,
           That sometime they
           In their dim style
           Will pause awhile
           To hear my say;
And take me by the hand,
And lead me through their rooms
In the To-be, where Dooms
Half-wove and shapeless stand:
             And show from there
            The dwindled dust
            And rot and rust
           Of things that were.

"Now turn," they said to me
One day:  "Look whence we came,
And signify his name
Who gazes thence on thee." --
         --"Nor name nor race
        Know I, or can,"
        I said, "Of man
       So commonplace.

"He moves me not at all;
I note no ray or jot
Of rareness in his lot,
Or star exceptional.
            Into the dim
            Dead throngs around
            He'll sink, nor sound
            Be left of him." 

"Yet," said they, "his frail speech,"
Hath accents pitched like thine--
Thy mould  and his define
A likeness each to each--
            But go!  Deep pain
            Alas, would be
           His name to thee,
           And told in vain!"

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

The poet-narrator clearly seems to be questioning here his own place in history.  He says that the shade pointed out to him will sink into the dead throngs around and nothing will be heard of him.  In the fifth stanza we learn the the shade looks and sounds like him, and the other shades will not say his name for "Deep pain/Alas, would be/His name to thee."

This all seems straightforward, except for the last line--"And told in vain."  Why would it be useless to tell him?  To prevent pain would be a good reason for not revealing the identity, but why include that it would be useless? 


  1. This seems to another of Hardy' s struggles with cosmic irony, one of his recurring tropes . . . So there is no solution to the enigma . . .

  2. RT,

    I haven't read anything by Hardy in which he suggests that there is a solution.

  3. Perhaps he comes close in "Convergence of the Twain" -- it may not be a solution, but it is an acceptance. Of course, I could be wrong.

  4. RT,

    I shall take a look and refresh my memory. I haven't read "Convergence" in awhile.

    On the other hand, acceptance of contradictions is an important tenet of Taoism, as shown by the yin-yang symbol.