Start out early. Leave one place to learn another. Stumble on a while, and your walk has turned to wandering. Soon the solitude takes shape around you, and for a time no words are needed. Then there is after, where the poems take root.
Reading Thomas Hardy’s metrically penetrating, formally fluent poetry, these offices of odysessy assert their claim as the poet’s driving passion. Because we are not now where we once were; because we have missed our goal in the very going we drifted into and pursued; because in time we find ourselves displaced, poetry must serve as our last outpost, must be, in short, our home. So it is that Hardy’s later poems feel haunted by the words from which they are built, containing and conveying in their lucent, intricate frames those very motions which would seem to be unspeakable, love and life lessening soundlessly til only loss is left:
Why do you make me leave the house
and think for a breath it is you I see
at the end of the alley of bending boughs
where so often at dusk you used to be;
till in darkening dankness
the yawning blankness
of the perspective sickens me!
Perhaps most striking about these love-poems (or loss-poems, for his deceased wife) is the intimacy of the mood and moments they evoke, laying bare the loneliness of the speaker in all the wholeness of its happening. For, in Hardy, a sense or sensation is never merely felt – even in the most glittering of pieces – but rather is brought to exist with the full force of its occurence in time, reiterating itself in new but ever-persistent rhythms for the speaker (the hill-walker, lover, aged mirror-face, to which Hardy seemed increasingly drawn as voices in his later work).
…[I] listen at whiles
with a thought-bound brow
to the murmuring miles
she is far from now.
Yet her shade, maybe,
will creep underground
till it catch the sound
of that western sea
as it swells and sobs
where she once domiciled,
and joy in its throbs
with the heart of a child.
Lament and lyric are marshalled into clear-sounding, full-throated song in Hardy’s poems, giving grief its jagged edge in the meticulous, medolic craftwork of their art. Hardy’s odyssey of the lost soul, the wanderer, keeps the music of such a figure’s inward weathers close to the heart of its own progression. Though the hard truths of ‘wreck of body, slow decay of blood’ echo endlessly in its corridors of winter light and in the half-heard histories of what might have been, still the idiom asserts a hope.
Can it be you that I hear? Let me view you, then,
standing as when I drew near to the town
where you would wait for me: yes, as I knew you then,
even to the original air-blue gown!
Consolation may feel far afield from the bruise-bright darkness which these poems of solitude caress, yet what attains always is the walker, watching the skylines though in grief, setting out to seek, in world, the loss that’s felt inside. Hardy’s poems strike deep because they strive always to bring to wakefulness the very roots of their own flowering: the silences which grow between lives and beneath hills; the solitude of roaming without time or direction; the inner storms which no rhyme or rhythm can possibly contain, and yet for which the only solace there could be are the words in them that might be heard – like “the woman” and “the voice” of his elegies – faintly, fearlessly calling.