Monday, December 28, 2009

Two Hardy Poems

The Oxen

Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.
"Now they are all on their knees,"
An elder said as we sat in a flock
By the embers in hearthside ease.

We pictured the meek mild creatures where
They dwelt in their strawy pen,
Nor did it occur to one of us there
To doubt they were kneeling then.

So fair a fancy few would weave
In these years! Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
"Come; see the oxen kneel

"In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
Our childhood used to know,"
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so.

The Puzzled Game-Birds

They are not those who used to feed us
When we were young--they cannot be -
These shapes that now bereave and bleed us?
They are not those who used to feed us, -
For would they not fair terms concede us?
- If hearts can house such treachery
They are not those who used to feed us
When we were young--they cannot be!

Thomas Hardy

I tossed up whether to put up Hardy’s ‘Oxen’ or Johnson’s ‘Decking the Tree’ on Christmas Eve. I blogged the Johnson – it seemed to sum up the modern secular reaction to the event, commercialism has so distorted the Christian story. Hardy sums up truthfully a different reaction – disbelief in the story but would that that disbelief did not exist.

In the first stanza an old person tells children the story of the oxen kneeling at Bethlehem. The second stanza has the young’s unquestioning acceptance. But the third stanza introduces a rueful note, few believe nowadays, but then again the story weaves its magic and so the final stanza which ends with the narrator running through 'the gloom/ hoping it might be so.'

‘ Barton’ is Hardy’s local dialect word for shed or stable, and ‘coomb’ is a hollow

In looking up “Oxen’ I came across ‘The Puzzled Game-Birds’. It’s typical Hardy. It reflects s countryman’s dilemma. It is not a big leap from caring for stock to caring for the game-birds that will be shot. But I disapprove of feeding wild ducks to make them tame for the shooting season. In my book that’s not cricket.

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