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Selected Poems (Thomas Hardy)

Published onFeb 12, 2024
Selected Poems (Thomas Hardy)

Selected Poems
By Thomas Hardy

By Thomas Hardy


“And There Was a Great Calm”

(On the Signing of the Armistice, 11 Nov. 1918)


There had been years of Passion—scorching, cold,

And much Despair, and Anger heaving high,

Care whitely watching, Sorrows manifold,

Among the young, among the weak and old,

And the pensive Spirit of Pity whispered, “Why?”


Men had not paused to answer. Foes distraught

Pierced the thinned peoples in a brute-like blindness,

Philosophies that sages long had taught,

And Selflessness, were as an unknown thought,

And “Hell!” and “Shell!” were yapped at Lovingkindness.


The feeble folk at home had grown full-used

To 'dug-outs', 'snipers', 'Huns', from the war-adept

In the mornings heard, and at evetides perused;

To day-dreamt men in millions, when they mused—

To nightmare-men in millions when they slept.


Waking to wish existence timeless, null,

Sirius they watched above where armies fell;

He seemed to check his flapping when, in the lull

Of night a boom came thencewise, like the dull

Plunge of a stone dropped into some deep well.


So, when old hopes that earth was bettering slowly

Were dead and damned, there sounded 'War is done!'

One morrow. Said the bereft, and meek, and lowly,

'Will men some day be given to grace? yea, wholly,

And in good sooth, as our dreams used to run?'


Breathless they paused. Out there men raised their glance

To where had stood those poplars lank and lopped,

As they had raised it through the four years’ dance

Of Death in the now familiar flats of France;

And murmured, 'Strange, this! How? All firing stopped?'


Aye; all was hushed. The about-to-fire fired not,

The aimed-at moved away in trance-lipped song.

One checkless regiment slung a clinching shot

And turned. The Spirit of Irony smirked out, 'What?

Spoil peradventures woven of Rage and Wrong?'=


Thenceforth no flying fires inflamed the gray,

No hurtlings shook the dewdrop from the thorn,

No moan perplexed the mute bird on the spray;

Worn horses mused: 'We are not whipped to-day;'

No weft-winged engines blurred the moon’s thin horn.


Calm fell. From Heaven distilled a clemency;

There was peace on earth, and silence in the sky;

Some could, some could not, shake off misery:

The Sinister Spirit sneered: 'It had to be!'

And again the Spirit of Pity whispered, 'Why?'

”Channel Firing”

That night your great guns, unawares,

Shook all our coffins as we lay,

And broke the chancel window-squares,

We thought it was the Judgment-day

And sat upright. While drearisome

Arose the howl of wakened hounds:

The mouse let fall the altar-crumb,

The worms drew back into the mounds,

The glebe cow drooled. Till God called, “No;

It’s gunnery practice out at sea

Just as before you went below;

The world is as it used to be:

“All nations striving strong to make

Red war yet redder. Mad as hatters

They do no more for Christés sake

Than you who are helpless in such matters.

“That this is not the judgment-hour

For some of them’s a blessed thing,

For if it were they’d have to scour

Hell’s floor for so much threatening....

“Ha, ha. It will be warmer when

I blow the trumpet (if indeed

I ever do; for you are men,

And rest eternal sorely need).”

So down we lay again. “I wonder,

Will the world ever saner be,”

Said one, “than when He sent us under

In our indifferent century!”

And many a skeleton shook his head.

“Instead of preaching forty year,”

My neighbour Parson Thirdly said,

“I wish I had stuck to pipes and beer.”

Again the guns disturbed the hour,

Roaring their readiness to avenge,

As far inland as Stourton Tower,

And Camelot, and starlit Stonehenge.

“The Convergence of the Twain

(Lines on the loss of the "Titanic")


            In a solitude of the sea

            Deep from human vanity,

And the Pride of Life that planned her, stilly couches she.


            Steel chambers, late the pyres

            Of her salamandrine fires,

Cold currents thrid, and turn to rhythmic tidal lyres.


            Over the mirrors meant

            To glass the opulent

The sea-worm crawls — grotesque, slimed, dumb, indifferent.


            Jewels in joy designed

            To ravish the sensuous mind

Lie lightless, all their sparkles bleared and black and blind.


            Dim moon-eyed fishes near

            Gaze at the gilded gear

And query: "What does this vaingloriousness down here?" ...


            Well: while was fashioning

            This creature of cleaving wing,

The Immanent Will that stirs and urges everything


            Prepared a sinister mate

            For her — so gaily great —

A Shape of Ice, for the time far and dissociate.


            And as the smart ship grew

            In stature, grace, and hue,

In shadowy silent distance grew the Iceberg too.


            Alien they seemed to be;

            No mortal eye could see

The intimate welding of their later history,


            Or sign that they were bent

            By paths coincident

On being anon twin halves of one august event,


            Till the Spinner of the Years

            Said "Now!" And each one hears,

And consummation comes, and jars two hemispheres.

“The Darkling Thrush”

I leant upon a coppice gate

      When Frost was spectre-grey,

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 fervourless 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.


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.

“I Looked Up from My Writing”

I looked up from my writing,

   And gave a start to see,

As if rapt in my inditing,

   The moon's full gaze on me.

Her meditative misty head

   Was spectral in its air,

And I involuntarily said,

   'What are you doing there?'

'Oh, I've been scanning pond and hole

   And waterway hereabout

For the body of one with a sunken soul

   Who has put his life-light out.

'Did you hear his frenzied tattle?

   It was sorrow for his son

Who is slain in brutish battle,

   Though he has injured none.

'And now I am curious to look

   Into the blinkered mind

Of one who wants to write a book

   In a world of such a kind.'

Her temper overwrought me,

   And I edged to shun her view,

For I felt assured she thought me

   One who should drown him too.

“In Time of ‘The Breaking of Nations’”


Only a man harrowing clods

    In a slow silent walk

With an old horse that stumbles and nods

    Half asleep as they stalk.


Only thin smoke without flame

    From the heaps of couch-grass;

Yet this will go onward the same

    Though Dynasties pass.


Yonder a maid and her wight

    Come whispering by:

War’s annals will cloud into night

    Ere their story die.

“The Man He Killed”

"Had he and I but met

            By some old ancient inn,

We should have sat us down to wet

            Right many a nipperkin!

            "But ranged as infantry,

            And staring face to face,

I shot at him as he at me,

            And killed him in his place.

            "I shot him dead because —

            Because he was my foe,

Just so: my foe of course he was;

            That's clear enough; although

            "He thought he'd 'list, perhaps,

            Off-hand like — just as I —

Was out of work — had sold his traps —

            No other reason why.

            "Yes; quaint and curious war is!

            You shoot a fellow down

You'd treat if met where any bar is,

            Or help to half-a-crown."

“Neutral Tones”

We stood by a pond that winter day,

And the sun was white, as though chidden of God,

And a few leaves lay on the starving sod;

– They had fallen from an ash, and were gray.

Your eyes on me were as eyes that rove

Over tedious riddles of years ago;

And some words played between us to and fro

On which lost the more by our love.

The smile on your mouth was the deadest thing

Alive enough to have strength to die;

And a grin of bitterness swept thereby

Like an ominous bird a-wing….

Since then, keen lessons that love deceives,

And wrings with wrong, have shaped to me

Your face, and the God curst sun, and a tree,

And a pond edged with grayish leaves.

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