Thomas Hardy




Channel Firing

Christmas, 1924

In Time of the “Breaking of the Nations”
Men Who March Away

The Man He Killed

The Oxen


Then and Now

To an Unborn Pauper Child





Wessex Poems and Other Verses.  1898. - complete text

Chronology - Mark Simons Page

Gettysburg College - Directory

Hardy’s World

The poetry of Thomas Hardy

Andrew Moore 's site - Comments

The Academy of American Poets

249 poems

77 poems

Many poems

77 poems

13 poems

9 sonnets




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.

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Noite de Natal e doze no relógio.

“Agora estão todos de joelhos”.

Disse um velho quando nos congregámos

À vontade à volta da lareira.


Imaginámos os mansos e humildes animais

Na palha do estábulo onde viviam,

E ninguém se lembrou de duvidar

De que então ajoelhavam realmente.


Poucos haveriam hoje de tecer tão bela

Fantasia. Contudo, sinto que,

Se alguém dissesse na noite de Natal:

“Venham ver os bois ajoelhar


Na solitária quinta ao pé do vale

Que a nossa infância tão bem conhecia”,

Acompanhá-lo-ia pelo escuro,

Na esperança de que assim acontecera.





Christmas, 1924


"Peace upon earth!" was said. We sing it,
And pay a million priests to bring it.
After two thousand years of mass
We've got as far as poison-gas.



NATAL, 1924


“Paz na Terra, disseram; nós cantamos

E a padres sem conta por ela pagamos.

Dois mil anos de missas já passaram

E foi ao gás venenoso que chegaram.






While I watch the Christmas blaze
Paint the room with ruddy rays,
Something makes my vision glide
To the frosty scene outside.

There, to reach a rotting berry,
Toils a thrush - constrained to very
Dregs of food by sharp distress,
Taking such with thankfulness.

Why, O starving bird, when I
Our day's joy would justify,
And put misery out of view,
Do you make me notice you ?




Enquanto observo o fogo do Natal

Pintando a sala de rubros raios,

Algo me faz deslizar o olhar

Para a cena gélida lá fora.


Ali, um tordo labuta arduamente

Para alcançar um bago meio podre –

A dura miséria força-o às sobras,

Que apanha com gratidão.


Quando eu só queria, ó ave faminta,

Um dia de júbilo justificar

E afastar a dor da minha vista,

Porquê me obrigas a atentar em ti?



Traduções de João Ferreira Duarte, em "LEITURAS

poemas do inglês", Relógio de Água, 1993.

ISBN 972-708-204-1




Then and Now


When battles were fought 
With a chivalrous sense of should and ought, 
In spirit men said, 
"End we quick or dead, 
Honour is some reward! 
Let us fight fair -- for our own best or worst; 
So, Gentlemen of the Guard, 
Fire first!" 
In the open they stood, 
Man to man in his knightlihood: 
They would not deign 
To profit by a stain 
On the honourable rules, 
Knowing that practise perfidy no man durst 
Who in the heroic schools 
Was nurst. 
But now, behold, what 
Is war with those where honour is not! 
Rama laments 
Its dead innocents; 
Herod howls: "Sly slaughter 
Rules now! Let us, by modes once called accurst, 
Overhead, under water, 
Stab first." 








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."




nipperkin: small amount of beer, wine, or liquor.

'list: enlist.

traps: belongings.

crown: British coin worth five shillings or 60 pence.


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In Time of the “Breaking of the 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.


Yound a maid and her wight
Come with wispering by:
War’s annals will cloud in night
Ere their story die.

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Men Who March Away

Song of the Soldiers

What of the faith and fire within us 
Men who march away 
Ere the barn-cocks say 
Night is growing gray, 
To hazards whence no tears can win us; 
What of the faith and fire within us 
Men who march away! 

Is it a purblind prank, O think you, 
Friend with the musing eye 
Who watch us stepping by, 
With doubt and dolorous sigh? 
Can much pondering so hoodwink you? 
Is it a purblind prank, O think you, 
Friend with the musing eye? 

Nay. We see well what we are doing, 
Though some may not see -- 
Dalliers as they be -- 
England's need are we; 
Her distress would leave us rueing: 
Nay. We well see what we are doing, 
Though some may not see! 

In our heart of hearts believing 
Victory crowns the just, 
And that braggarts must 
Surely bite the dust, 
Press we to the field ungrieving, 
In our heart of hearts believing 
Victory crowns the just. 

Hence the faith and fire within us 
Men who march away 
Ere the barn-cocks say 
Night is growing gray, 
To hazards whence no tears can win us; 
Hence the faith and fire within us 
Men who march away. 





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.




chancel: front area in a church holding the altar and the choir.

glebe cow: cow put out to pasture on church land for the vicar.

Stourton Tower: in Wiltshire, a tower built to honour Alfred the Great's victory over the Danes.

Camelot: King Arthur's court, associated with Winchester or Tintagel in Cornwall.
Stonehenge: prehistoric megalithic circle on Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire.

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To an Unborn Pauper Child



Breathe not, hid Heart: cease silently,
And though thy birth-hour beckons thee,
Sleep the long sleep:
The Doomsters heap
Travails and teens around us here,
And Time-Wraiths turn our songsingings to fear.
Hark, how the peoples surge and sigh,
And laughters fail, and greetings die;
Hopes dwindle; yea,
Faiths waste away,
Affections and enthusiasms numb:
Thou canst not mend these things if thou dost come.
Had I the ear of wombed souls
Ere their terrestrial chart unrolls,
And thou wert free
To cease, or be,
Then would I tell thee all I know,
And put it to thee: Wilt thou take Life so?
Vain vow! No hint of mine may hence
To thee ward fly: to thy locked sense
Explain none can
Life's pending plan:
Thou wilt thy ignorant entry make
Though skies spout fire and blood and nations quake.
Fain would I, dear, find some shut plot
Of earth's wide world for thee, where not
One tear, one qualm,
Should break the calm.
But I am weak as thou and bare;
No man can change the common lot to rare.
Must come and bide. And such are we --
Unreasoning, sanguine, visionary --
That I can hope
Health, love, friends, scope
In full for thee; can dream thou'lt find
Joys seldom yet attained by humankind!


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Perennial Hardy


Saturday, January 29, 2005 - Page D8

Thomas Hardy:

A Biography Revisited

By Michael Millgate

Oxford University Press,

625 pages, $85

Great writers are capable of redrawing maps. Joyce with his Dublin, Faulkner with Mississippi, Cheever and the New York suburbs -- each of these authors appropriated an existing landscape for his own purposes, investing actual terrain with imaginary characters, events and places. Perhaps the foremost of these freelance cartographers was Thomas Hardy, whose Wessex novels imposed a fatalistic, altogether unique version of reality on his native Dorset.

One the many achievements of Michael Millgate's seminal biography of Hardy, appearing now in a revised and expanded edition two decades after its original publication, is its careful depiction of just how the author was able to take the raw material of his rural youth and turn it into what Millgate called "a total imaginative world with a solid, complex, and comprehensively realized existence in space and time."

Beginning with his breakthrough novel, Far from the Madding Crowd, Hardy systematically reconstituted the countryside and towns around his native Bockhampton into a vibrant extension of his own imagination. Starting from the folk wisdom his mother imparted to him at an early age, Hardy built on this nostalgia with an industry and elaboration worthy of his training as architect. For instance, in preparation for work on his major novels of the 1880s and 1890s, he decided to "read his way systematically through the files of the local newspaper, the Dorset County Chronicle, for the period beginning January 1826." He also threw himself into local life, becoming a member of the Dorset Natural History and Antiquarian Field Club, as well as serving as a justice of the peace.

The result was an ability to create fictional settings "notorious for what might be called their flexible fidelity to actuality: scenes and buildings recognizably 'real' are adapted, developed, shifted, arranged in new topographical relationships, in order to meet the overriding demands of the fiction, the work of art itself." Residents of Dorchester might recognize their city in Hardy's fictional Casterbridge, although none of them had ever seen anything quite like it before.

Millgate, a former professor at the University of Toronto, makes it abundantly clear that Hardy's workmanlike approach to genius had roots in his modest circumstances. He was born into a cultural no man's land between the peasantry and the middle class, and his entire life was a struggle to earn for himself a respectability that, in Victorian England, could only be conferred by others. Unable to attend university, he educated himself in the classics with a mind-numbing self-discipline.

Despite this broad reading, Hardy "never quite lost the sense of inferiority and resentment stemming from the incompleteness of his schooling, especially as signalled by the lack of a university degree." His long marriage to solidly middle-class Emma Gifford may have had the romantic origins of a Hardy novel, but his devotion to her for decades after their relationship grew cold stemmed, at least in part, from a stubborn adherence to bourgeois norms.

One cannot help but suspect that this same insecurity fed his "extreme vulnerability to hostile criticism." Certainly, he received more than his fair share of bad press, especially upon the publication of Jude the Obscure: The London World's review was titled Hardy the Degenerate. Who can argue with Hardy's declaration that "a man must be a fool to deliberately stand up to be shot at" in this way?

But to abandon fiction altogether at the age of 55 seems so extreme a reaction that it continues to be one of English literature's ripest mysteries. Millgate acutely hypothesizes that turning to poetry gave Hardy "a technique for polemical indirection, a means of obtaining a hearing for ideas which, directly expressed, might well be howled down." With poetry, in other words, the middle-class gentleman and the wild bard of the blasted heath could inhabit the same consciousness. This would perhaps explain the ability of the author of Channel Firing to be comfortably involved with such organizations as the Fordington St George Needlework Guild.

It is, however, the wild Hardy we treasure, the stark sensibility that shines through Millgate's occasionally daunting accumulation of quotidian detail. He was the era's foremost literary pessimist (or "Tessimist," as contemporary wags would have it), given to mocking Victorian philosophers who "cannot get away from a prepossession that the world must somehow have been made to be a comfortable place for man."

He was also a lusty romantic, still bearing in his ninth decade a "readiness to fall immediately, if temporarily, in love with women glimpsed in the street, in railway carriages, on the tops of omnibuses, or indeed in any public place." This combination of deep cynicism and clandestine sensuality gave birth to Tess Durbeyfield, Eustacia Vye and Jude Fawley, characters in whom Chaos collides with Eros, leaving the needle workers and priggish critics to splutter in impotent outrage at the ensuing tragedies.

Stephen Amidon's most recent novel is Human Capital. He lives in Massachusetts.