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 solved 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.
At school, I had a fundamental difficulty with Robert Hardy’s work. I read Return of the Native in my last year, and I recall not enjoying it at all. Worse than that, Hardy’s Wessex was colourless, plodding and its denizens devoid of hope, at least as far as I could tell from my limited reading of that novel twenty years ago.
The poem above (‘Neutral Tones’) is from the 1898 volume Wessex Poems And Other Verses and I was amazed to drink in its bleak outlook. It rejoices in its lack of colour and now that seems to me to be an integral part of its beauty.
Our tastes changes over time; what was once dull for me because it seemed colourless is now emotionally effecting precisely because of that colourlessness. I should try Hardy again in longer form. Perhaps twenty years later I’ll be able to take some pleasure from its joyless panoply.