We Are Getting to the End
We are getting to the end of visioning
The impossible within this universe,
Such as that better whiles may follow worse,
And that our race may mend by reasoning.
We know that even as larks in cages sing
Unthoughtful of deliverance from the curse
That holds them lifelong in a latticed hearse,
We ply spasmodically our pleasuring.
And that when nations set them to lay waste
Their neighbours' heritage by foot and horse,
And hack their pleasant plains in festering seams,
They may again, - not warily, or from taste,
But tickled mad by some demonic force. -
Yes. We are getting to the end of dreams!
As a young man I read this poem about the same time as I read H.G.Wells’ last book ‘Mind at the End of its Tether’. Wells’s bouncy optimism of his youth long gone, he felt disillusionment and despair as the world he knew seemed to be collapsing into chaos. Hardy’s emotions are more complex. This is one of his last poems. The idea of progress is on the outer. Rage is obvious. Yet there is hope in some strange if ‘demonic’ form. The tortured syntax reflects and refracts meaning.
Down the centuries old people have bewailed the end of civilisation. (Not all, I acknowledge). But on the whole, age, experience, regret, nostalgia, guilt increase a sense of helplessness and failure. (Some may say, wisdom). The idealistic young are certain in their prime, as I once was, that they are captains of their fate.
Now! I understand Hardy better. Wells too. But Hardy carries an extra dimension – we repeat the tragic failures of our predecessors. A bleak vision? Before discarding it, it warrants consideration, the record of the 20th century is its measure. As are all preceeding centuries.
And what a magnificent second stanza! Four great lines!