'God 's Funeral' by Thomas Hardy
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I saw a slowly-stepping train --
Lined on the brows, scoop-eyed and bent and hoar --
Following in files across a twilit plain
A strange and mystic form the foremost bore.
And by contagious throbs of thought
Or latent knowledge that within me lay
And had already stirred me, I was wrought
To consciousness of sorrow even as they.
The fore-borne shape, to my blurred eyes,
At first seemed man-like, and anon to change
To an amorphous cloud of marvellous size,
At times endowed with wings of glorious range.
And this phantasmal variousness
Ever possessed it as they drew along:
Yet throughout all it symboled none the less
Potency vast and loving-kindness strong.
Almost before I knew I bent
Towards the moving columns without a word;
They, growing in bulk and numbers as they went,
Struck out sick thoughts that could be overheard: --
'O man-projected Figure, of late
Imaged as we, thy knell who shall survive?
Whence came it we were tempted to create
One whom we can no longer keep alive?
'Framing him jealous, fierce, at first,
We gave him justice as the ages rolled,
Will to bless those by circumstance accurst,
And longsuffering, and mercies manifold.
'And, tricked by our own early dream
And need of solace, we grew self-deceived,
Our making soon our maker did we deem,
And what we had imagined we believed,
'Till, in Time's stayless stealthy swing,
Uncompromising rude reality
Mangled the Monarch of our fashioning,
Who quavered, sank; and now has ceased to be.
'So, toward our myth's oblivion,
Darkling, and languid-lipped, we creep and grope
Sadlier than those who wept in Babylon,
Whose Zion was a still abiding hope.
'How sweet it was in years far hied
To start the wheels of day with trustful prayer,
To lie down liegely at the eventide
And feel a blest assurance he was there!
'And who or what shall fill his place?
Whither will wanderers turn distracted eyes
For some fixed star to stimulate their pace
Towards the goal of their enterprise?'...
Some in the background then I saw,
Sweet women, youths, men, all incredulous,
Who chimed as one: 'This is figure is of straw,
This requiem mockery! Still he lives to us!'
I could not prop their faith: and yet
Many I had known: with all I sympathized;
And though struck speechless, I did not forget
That what was mourned for, I, too, once had prized.
Still, how to bear such loss I deemed
The insistent question for each animate mind,
And gazing, to my growing sight there seemed
A pale yet positive gleam low down behind,
Whereof, to lift the general night,
A certain few who stood aloof had said,
'See you upon the horizon that small light --
Swelling somewhat?' Each mourner shook his head.
And they composed a crowd of whom
Some were right good, and many nigh the best....
Thus dazed and puzzled 'twixt the gleam and gloom
Mechanically I followed with the rest.
Editor 1 Interpretation
Poetry, God's Funeral: A Deep Dive into Thomas Hardy's Masterpiece
Are you familiar with the works of Thomas Hardy? If you're a lover of poetry, you'd surely know that he's one of the greatest poets of the English language. Among his most popular works is "Poetry, God's Funeral," a poem that explores the decline of religious faith and the rise of science and reason in the Victorian era.
In this 4000-word literary criticism and interpretation, we'll take a deep dive into the themes, language, and imagery used in "Poetry, God's Funeral," and how they reflect the cultural and social changes of the time.
Before we dive into the poem itself, let's set the context. "Poetry, God's Funeral" was first published in 1910, during the height of the modernist movement. This was a time of great change and upheaval in the world, with rapid advancements in science, technology, and industry. It was also a time of questioning, as people began to challenge traditional ideas and beliefs, including religion.
Thomas Hardy himself was a product of this era. Born in 1840, he grew up in a rural community in England, and he witnessed firsthand the changes sweeping through the country. He was a talented poet and novelist, known for his realistic portrayal of the lives of everyday people. He was also a sceptic when it came to religion, and he often expressed his doubts and criticisms through his writing.
"Poetry, God's Funeral" is one of Hardy's most overtly philosophical and critical works. It reflects his own skepticism and his observations of the changing cultural landscape of the time.
Let's take a look at the poem itself. "Poetry, God's Funeral" is a long, complex work, with a number of different sections and themes. It begins with a description of a funeral procession, and gradually moves into a meditation on the decline of religion and the rise of science.
Structure and Form
The poem is written in free verse, without a regular rhyme or meter. This gives it a sense of flexibility and spontaneity, allowing Hardy to explore his ideas and emotions without being constrained by traditional poetic forms.
Despite the lack of a regular structure, however, the poem is not formless. It is divided into four main sections, each of which explores a different aspect of the theme. The first section describes the funeral procession, the second reflects on the decline of religion, the third explores the rise of science, and the fourth offers a conclusion.
Each section is introduced by a short stanza that sets the tone and theme. These stanzas act as signposts, guiding the reader through the complex ideas and emotions of the poem.
The overarching theme of "Poetry, God's Funeral" is the decline of religion and the rise of science. However, this theme is explored through a number of subsidiary themes and ideas.
Death and Decay
The opening section of the poem sets the tone of death and decay. Hardy describes a funeral procession, with mourners dressed in black and the coffin carried on a hearse. The imagery is sombre and mournful, reflecting the sense of loss and grief that pervades the poem.
Religion and Faith
The second section of the poem explores the decline of religion and faith. Hardy describes the mourners as "God's mourners," implying that they are mourning not just for the dead, but for the loss of their own faith. He goes on to suggest that religion is fading away, leaving behind only the trappings of ceremony and ritual.
Science and Reason
The third section of the poem explores the rise of science and reason. Hardy suggests that the scientific worldview is replacing the religious one, offering a new way of understanding the world. He describes the "scientist's plea" for truth and reason, and suggests that this is a new kind of faith, based not on superstition and tradition, but on evidence and rationality.
Poetry and Imagination
The fourth and final section of the poem brings together the different themes and ideas of the previous sections. Hardy suggests that poetry and imagination are the key to understanding the world, and that they offer a bridge between the religious and scientific worldviews. He suggests that poetry can offer a new kind of faith, based on the imaginative and creative exploration of the world.
Language and Imagery
The language and imagery of "Poetry, God's Funeral" are rich and complex, reflecting the depth of Hardy's ideas and emotions.
The opening section of the poem is rich in funeral imagery. Hardy describes the mourners as dressed in black, with the sound of the funeral bells ringing in the distance. He creates a sense of solemnity and mourning, reflecting the sense of loss and decay that pervades the poem.
Throughout the poem, Hardy makes use of biblical allusions and imagery, suggesting the deep roots of religious belief in Western culture. He describes the mourners as "God's mourners," and refers to the "Hebrew books" and "sacred scrolls" of religion. These allusions serve to emphasise the historical and cultural significance of religion, even as it is declining.
The third section of the poem is rich in scientific imagery, reflecting the rise of science and reason in the modern world. Hardy describes the "scientist's plea" for truth and reason, and refers to the "laws of nature" and the "universe's scheme." These images serve to emphasise the rational and empirical worldview of science, contrasting it with the more mystical and imaginative worldview of religion.
The fourth section of the poem is rich in poetic imagery, reflecting Hardy's belief in the power of poetry and imagination. He describes the world as a "vast poetic theme," and suggests that poetry can offer a new kind of faith, based on imagination and creativity. These images serve to emphasise the importance of art and creativity in understanding the world, and offer a vision of hope and renewal.
So, what does "Poetry, God's Funeral" mean? What is Hardy trying to say through this complex and multi-layered poem?
At its core, the poem is a meditation on the decline of religion and the rise of science and reason in the modern world. Hardy suggests that this shift is both inevitable and necessary, reflecting the changing cultural and social landscape of the time. However, he also suggests that this shift is not without its costs, and that there is something valuable in the religious worldview that is being lost.
Throughout the poem, Hardy offers a vision of hope and renewal. He suggests that poetry and imagination are the key to understanding the world, and that they offer a bridge between the religious and scientific worldviews. He suggests that, even as religion fades away, a new kind of faith can emerge, based on the imaginative and creative exploration of the world.
In many ways, "Poetry, God's Funeral" is a deeply personal poem. It reflects Hardy's own skepticism and his observations of the changing cultural landscape of the time. However, it is also a deeply philosophical and universal work, exploring some of the biggest questions of human existence.
"Poetry, God's Funeral" is a masterpiece of English poetry, exploring some of the biggest themes and ideas of the modern age. It is a complex and multi-layered work, rich in language and imagery, and reflecting the depth of Hardy's ideas and emotions.
As we have seen, the poem explores the decline of religion and the rise of science and reason, offering a meditation on the costs and benefits of this shift. It also offers a vision of hope and renewal, suggesting that poetry and imagination can offer a new kind of faith, based on the imaginative and creative exploration of the world.
If you haven't read "Poetry, God's Funeral" yet, you should definitely add it to your reading list. It is a work of profound beauty and insight, and a testament to the power of poetry to explore some of the biggest questions of human existence.
Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation
Thomas Hardy's "God's Funeral" is a powerful and thought-provoking poem that explores the decline of religious faith in the modern world. Written in 1910, the poem reflects the growing skepticism and disillusionment of the time, as people began to question the traditional beliefs and values that had guided them for centuries.
At its core, "God's Funeral" is a lament for the loss of faith and the sense of purpose and meaning that it provided. The poem opens with a vivid image of a funeral procession, as the mourners carry the body of God to his final resting place. The language is rich and evocative, with Hardy using powerful metaphors and vivid imagery to convey the sense of loss and despair that permeates the poem.
As the procession moves through the streets, the mourners are met with indifference and hostility from the crowds. People jeer and mock them, and the speaker of the poem wonders if anyone truly cares about the death of God. This sense of isolation and alienation is a recurring theme throughout the poem, as Hardy portrays a world that has lost its connection to the divine and is struggling to find meaning and purpose in a world that seems increasingly chaotic and meaningless.
One of the most striking aspects of "God's Funeral" is the way that Hardy uses language to convey the sense of loss and despair that permeates the poem. The language is rich and evocative, with powerful metaphors and vivid imagery that bring the funeral procession to life. For example, Hardy describes the mourners as "pall-bearers of a faith," and the body of God as a "corpse" that is "borne aloft." These images are both powerful and poignant, conveying the sense of loss and grief that the mourners feel as they carry their beloved God to his final resting place.
Another important theme in "God's Funeral" is the idea of progress and the role that it plays in the decline of religious faith. Hardy portrays a world that is rapidly changing, with new technologies and scientific discoveries challenging traditional beliefs and values. The speaker of the poem wonders if this progress is worth the cost, as people lose their connection to the divine and struggle to find meaning and purpose in a world that seems increasingly chaotic and meaningless.
Overall, "God's Funeral" is a powerful and thought-provoking poem that explores the decline of religious faith in the modern world. Through vivid imagery and powerful language, Hardy conveys the sense of loss and despair that permeates the poem, as people struggle to find meaning and purpose in a world that seems increasingly chaotic and meaningless. Despite its bleak outlook, however, the poem also offers a glimmer of hope, as the speaker suggests that perhaps a new faith will arise to take the place of the old, and that humanity will find a way to navigate the challenges of the modern world.
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