Cheerful Thomas Hardy

The Occasional Dip into Gloom

The Wedding Morning

    Tabitha dressed for her wedding: -- 
    "Tabby, why look so sad?"
"-- O I feel a great gloominess spreading, spreading
    Instead of supremely glad!...

    "I called on Carry last night,
    And he came whilst I was there,
Not knowing I'd called. So I kept out of sight
    And I heard what he said to her:

    "'--Ah, I'd far liefer marry
    You, Dear, to-morrow!' he said,
'But that cannot be.' -- O I'd give him to Carry.
    And willingly see them wed.

    "But how can I do it when
    His baby will soon be born?
After that I hope I may die. And then
    She can have him. I shall not mourn!"

-- Thomas Hardy

Why buy the cow when you can have the milk for free?

This poem appears in Late Lyrics and Earlier, a collection Hardy put out in 1922 when he would have been 82 years old. He writes a comparatively lengthy preface to this collection, partially a defense of the assembly of miscellaneous pieces from much earlier alongside recent poems and partially a defense of his reputation — relevant here — for being a pessimist. This poem seems to me like it must be one of the earlier lyrics, given some of its awkward phrasing and its youthful tendency toward melodrama and a sort of sensationalism.


Ah, Are You Digging on my Grave?

"Ah, are you digging on my grave
    My loved one? -- planting rue?"
-- "No: yesterday he went to wed
One of the brightest wealth has bred.
'It cannot hurt her now,' he said,
    'That I should not be true.'"

"Then who is digging on my grave?
    My nearest dearest kin?"
-- "Ah, no: they sit and think, 'What use!
What good will planting flowers produce?
No tendance of her mound can loose
    Her spirit from Death's gin.'"

"But some one digs upon my grave?
    My enemy? -- prodding sly?"
-- "Nay: when she heard you had passed the Gate
That shuts on all flesh soon or late
She thought you no more worth her hate,
    And cares not where you lie."

"Then, who is digging on my grave?
    Say -- since I have not guessed!"
-- "Oh, it is I, my mistress dear,
Your little dog, who still lives near,
And much I hope my movements here
    Have not disturbed your rest?"

"Ah, yes! You dig upon my grave...
    Why flashed it not on me
That one true heart was left behind!
What feeling do we ever find
To equal among human kind
    A dog's fidelity!"

"Mistress, I dug upon your grave
    To bury a bone, in case
I should be hungry near this spot
When passing on my daily trot.
I am sorry, but I quite forgot
    It was your resting place."

-- Thomas Hardy

So much for Man’s best friend.


If but some vengeful god would call to me
From up the sky, and laugh: "Thou suffering thing, 
Know that thy sorrow is my ecstasy,
That thy love's loss is my hate's profiting!"

Then would I bear it, clench myself, and die,
Steeled by the sense of ire unmerited;
Half-eased in that a Powerfuller than I
Had willed and meted me the tears I shed.

But not so. How arrives it joy lies slain,
And why unblooms the best hope ever sown?
-- Crass Casualty obstructs the sun and rain,
And dicing Time for gladness casts a moan...
These purblind Doomsters had as readily strown
Blisses about my pilgrimage as pain.

-- Thomas Hardy, 1866

I’m just going to go roll around in a pile of ashes now.

This is a Hardy staple, and for good reason. I love the coinage “unblooms,” and the helpless sentiment is hard to argue with. I’m not sure I’ve ever read a more succinct, bitter, and on-target distillation of the human condition.

Her Confession

As some bland soul, to whom a debtor says
"I'll now repay the amount I owe to you,"
In inward gladness feigns forgetfulness
That such a payment ever was his due

(His long thought notwithstanding), so did I
At our last meeting waive your proffered kiss
With quick divergent talk of scenery nigh,
By such suspension to enhance my bliss.

And as his looks in consternation fall
When, gathering that the debt is lightly deemed,
The debtor makes as not to pay at all,
So faltered I, when your intention seemed

Converted by my false uneagerness
To putting off for ever the caress.

-- Thomas Hardy, 1865 - 1867

Nothing says romance like a withheld kiss being likened to a debt unpaid.

On a serious note, this is actually a very interesting sonnet structurally, with the fairly complex conceit and the way the volta not only changes the poem’s direction but returns to the beginning to elaborate on the metaphor.

Birds at Winter Nightfall

Around the house the flakes fly faster,
And all the berries now are gone
From holly and cotonea-aster
Around the house. The flakes fly! -- faster
Shutting indoors that crumb-outcaster
We used to see upon the lawn
Around the house. The flakes fly faster,
And all the berries now are gone!

Not content to limit his complaint to the human sphere of experience, Hardy here adopts the perspective of birds doomed by winter and the lapse of duty on the part of a person who used to fling them crumbs. One is tempted to suggest an edit for that fifth line (in spite of the imperfect rhyme): “Shutting indoors that selfish bastard.”


In five-score summers! All new eyes,
New minds, new modes, new fools, new wise;
New woes to weep, new joys to prize;

With nothing left of me and you
In that live century's vivid view
Beyond a pinch of dust or two;

A century which, if not sublime,
Will show, I doubt not, at its prime,
A scope above this blinkered time.

-- Yet what to me how far above?
For I would only ask thereof
That thy worm should be my worm, Love!

-- Thomas Hardy, 1867

Well, this is a pretty youthful effort for Hardy, born in 1840 and consigned to the worms 88 years later, and with youth comes a certain playfulness. Consider for example the homophonous endings to the first two lines followed by the near-rhyme in “new woes” shortly following. And note the youthful exuberance with which he anticipates the wonders of the future.

Ah, but then we take a gloomy turn, for why should he care from beyond the grave how grand things are? “What’s it to me?” he asks before shifting to the romantic notion of sharing a corpse worm with his beloved. Think I’ll try that line out on the wife.

A Circular

As "legal representative"
I read a missive not my own
On new designs the senders give
    For clothes, in tints as shown.

Here figure blouses, gowns for tea,
And presentation-trains of state,
Charming ball-dresses, millinery,
    Warranted up to date.

And this gay-pictured, spring-time shout
Of Fashion, hails what lady proud?
Her who before last year ebbed out
    Was costumed in a shroud.

-- Thomas Hardy

Oh, Thomas. You lead us to think you’re breaking out of the usual dreary pattern and embarking on an airy, perhaps satirical, little society jaunt before turning the knife in and twisting it. Of satire there is a little, but you pull all that air out of the room with the turn at the end. Well played, Eyeore.