Thursday, December 25, 2014

Thomas Hardy: "A Nightmare, And The Next Thing

A Nightmare, And The Next Thing

On this decline of  Christmas Day
The empty street is fogg4ed and blurred:
The house-fronts all seem backwise turned
As if the outer world were spurned:
Voices and songs within are heard,
Whence red rays gleam when fires are stirred,
Upon this nightmare Christmas Day.

The lamps, just lit, begin to outloom
Like dandelion-globes in the gloom;
The stonework, shop-signs, doors, look bald:
Curious crude details seem installed,
And show themselves in their degrees
As they were personalities
Never discerned when the street was bustling
With vehicles, and farmers hustling.
Three clammy casuals wend their way
To the Union House.  I hear one say:
"Jimmy, this is a treat!  Hay-hay!"

Six laughing mouths, six rows of teeth,
Six  radiant pairs of eyes, beneath
Six yellow hats, looking out at the back
Of a waggonette on its slowed-down track
Up the steep street to some gay dance,
Suddenly interrupt my glance.

They do not see a gray nightmare
Astride the day, or anywhere.

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

Strange juxtaposition here--Christmas and a nightmare.  But, the nightmare seems to be that of someone who is alone.  With no one about, the familiar houses and buildings now suddenly seem strange.  There is no nightmare inside the houses where voices and songs are heard.  The three "casuals," on their way to a free meal are joyful as are the six in the waggonette heading for a dance.  The nightmare seems to be the exclusive property of one who is alone.


  1. Although my New Critic roots want me to resist this approach to the poem, I am nevertheless curious about the poet's contexts when the poem was written. As for the date of composition, I have drawn a blank in my Google research. Since Hardy abandoned prose in favor of fiction because he felt isolated and rejected -- the public and the critics had abandoned him (well, that is the short answer), I think there might be some "clue" about the poem within the poet's contexts. And so my research continues, and I withhold comment on the poem until I learn some more. Yes, I know that I may fall into the trap of "intentional fallacy," but I resist at the same time the "affective fallacy" by simply offering a subjective reader-response reaction (Lord knows I have had Christmases like the one represented in the poem). But let me put the babbling aside -- and it is little more than that -- and let me keep digging into poor Hardy's seemingly melancholy poem about isolation and rejection.

  2. R. T.,

    The poem was part of his collection titled, "Winter Words" which was posthumously published in 1928, the year of Hardy's death.