'An Ancient To Ancients' by Thomas Hardy
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Where once we danced, where once we sang,
The floors are sunken, cobwebs hang,
And cracks creep; worms have fed upon
The doors. Yea, sprightlier times were then
Than now, with harps and tabrets gone,
Where once we rowed, where once we sailed,
And damsels took the tiller, veiled
Against too strong a stare (God wot
Their fancy, then or anywhen!)
Upon that shore we are clean forgot,
We have lost somewhat of that, afar and near,
The thinning of our ranks each year
Affords a hint we are nigh undone,
That shall not be ever again
The marked of many, loved of one,
In dance the polka hit our wish,
The paced quadrille, the spry schottische,
"Sir Roger."--And in opera spheres
The "Girl" (the famed "Bohemian"),
And "Trovatore" held the ears,
This season's paintings do not please,
Like Etty, Mulready, Maclise;
Throbbing romance had waned and wanned;
No wizard wields the witching pen
Of Bulwer, Scott, Dumas, and Sand,
The bower we shrined to Tennyson,
Is roof-wrecked; damps there drip upon
Sagged seats, the creeper-nails are rust,
The spider is sole denizen;
Even she who voiced those rhymes is dust,
We who met sunrise sanguine-souled,
Are wearing weary. We are old;
These younger press; we feel our rout
Is imminent to Aïdes' den,--
That evening shades are stretching out,
And yet, though ours be failing frames,
So were some others' history names,
Who trode their track light-limbed and fast
As these youth, and not alien
From enterprise, to their long last,
Sophocles, Plato, Socrates,
Herodotus, and Homer,--yea,
Clement, Augustin, Origen,
Burnt brightlier towards their setting-day,
And ye, red-lipped and smooth-browed; list,
Much is there waits you we have missed;
Much lore we leave you worth the knowing,
Much, much has lain outside our ken;
Nay, rush not: time serves: we are going,
Editor 1 Interpretation
An Ancient To Ancients: A Deep Dive into the Poetic Mind of Thomas Hardy
Thomas Hardy is known for his mastery of poetic language, and his poem "An Ancient to Ancients" is a prime example of his brilliance. This poem is a reflection on the fleeting nature of life and the inevitability of death, and it is composed in a style that is simultaneously intense and deeply contemplative.
At its core, "An Ancient to Ancients" is a meditation on the transience of life. The speaker, an "Ancient," is someone who has lived a long life and has seen many things. He speaks to the "Ancients" who have come before him, reminding them of their own mortality and the fact that they too will one day pass away.
The Setting: A Cemetery
The poem opens with a description of the setting: a cemetery. The speaker tells us that he is standing among the graves of those who have gone before him, and he reflects on the fact that he too will one day lie in one of these graves.
This setting is significant for several reasons. First, it underscores the central theme of the poem: the inevitability of death. By placing the speaker in a cemetery, Hardy reminds us that death is a fact of life, and that no one can escape it.
Second, the cemetery setting also reinforces the idea that the speaker is speaking to those who have come before him. By standing among the graves of his predecessors, the speaker is acknowledging his place in a long line of human beings who have lived and died before him.
The Speaker: An Ancient
The speaker of the poem is an "Ancient," someone who has lived a long life and has seen much. The fact that he is referred to as an "Ancient" suggests that he is a person of great wisdom and experience, someone who has lived long enough to gain a deep understanding of the world.
Throughout the poem, the speaker addresses those who have come before him, reminding them of their own mortality and the fact that they too will one day pass away. He speaks with a sense of urgency, as if he is trying to impart some important knowledge before it is too late.
The Language: Intense and Contemplative
One of the most striking things about "An Ancient to Ancients" is the intensity of the language. Hardy uses words and phrases that are charged with emotion, creating a sense of urgency and immediacy.
For example, in the second stanza, the speaker says:
"Huge hills, high holms, the champaign wide, Since earliest time unchanged have stood; Yet ah! how swiftly time doth glide, And new-built towers fall as soon as old."
The use of words like "huge," "high," and "unchanged" creates a sense of grandeur and permanence. But this sense of stability is quickly undercut by the phrase "how swiftly time doth glide," which suggests that even the mightiest landmarks will eventually succumb to the passage of time.
In addition to its intensity, the language of the poem is also deeply contemplative. The speaker is reflecting on the nature of life and death, and his musings are expressed in language that is rich with imagery and metaphor.
For example, in the fourth stanza, the speaker says:
"The joys we once knew are fled, And the tears we shed are dry; And all that is left is the silent tread Of the feet of those who die."
This passage is a powerful reflection on the transience of human experience. The joys we once knew are now gone, the tears we shed have dried up, and all that is left is the sound of death's approach. The speaker's use of the phrase "the silent tread / Of the feet of those who die" is particularly haunting, underscoring the inevitability of our own mortality.
The Theme: The Transience of Life
At its core, "An Ancient to Ancients" is a meditation on the transience of life. The speaker reflects on the fact that everything in life is fleeting: our joys, our sorrows, even our lives themselves.
The poem is also a reminder that death is a fact of life, and that our time on this earth is limited. The speaker urges those who have come before him to remember this fact, and to make the most of the time they have left.
In "An Ancient to Ancients," Thomas Hardy has created a powerful meditation on the transience of life. Through the voice of an "Ancient," he reflects on the fleeting nature of our joys and sorrows, and reminds us that death is a fact of life.
The language of the poem is intense and contemplative, and it creates a sense of urgency that underscores the speaker's message. The cemetery setting reinforces the theme of mortality, and the use of the term "Ancient" emphasizes the wisdom and experience of the speaker.
Overall, "An Ancient to Ancients" is a deeply moving poem that speaks to the fundamental questions of human existence. It is a testament to Hardy's mastery of poetic language, and it is a reminder that even in the face of death, there is still beauty and wisdom to be found in life.
Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation
An Ancient To Ancients: A Poem That Resonates Through Time
Thomas Hardy, the celebrated English novelist and poet, is known for his poignant and evocative works that explore the complexities of human emotions and relationships. One of his most famous poems, An Ancient To Ancients, is a powerful meditation on the transience of life and the enduring legacy of the past. Written in 1901, the poem is a testament to Hardy's mastery of language and his ability to capture the essence of the human experience.
At its core, An Ancient To Ancients is a reflection on the fleeting nature of existence. The poem is addressed to the "ancients," those who have come before us and left their mark on the world. The speaker of the poem, an "ancient" himself, acknowledges that his time on earth is limited and that he will soon join the ranks of those who have gone before him. He speaks of the passing of seasons and the inevitability of death, noting that even the most enduring monuments and structures will eventually crumble and fade away.
Despite this sense of impermanence, however, the poem is also a celebration of the enduring legacy of the past. The speaker marvels at the achievements of those who have come before him, from the builders of ancient temples to the poets and artists who have left their mark on the world. He acknowledges that their work has stood the test of time and continues to inspire and move us today.
One of the most striking aspects of An Ancient To Ancients is its use of language and imagery. Hardy's words are rich and evocative, painting a vivid picture of the world he is describing. He uses metaphors and similes to great effect, comparing the passing of time to the ebb and flow of the tide and the fading of memories to the fading of autumn leaves. His descriptions of ancient ruins and monuments are equally vivid, conjuring up images of crumbling stone and weathered statues.
At the same time, however, Hardy's language is also deeply philosophical, exploring complex ideas about the nature of existence and the human condition. He speaks of the "mystery of things" and the "eternal silence" that lies beyond our understanding, suggesting that there is more to life than what we can see and touch. He also touches on the idea of legacy, noting that even though we may not live forever, our actions and achievements can have a lasting impact on the world.
Overall, An Ancient To Ancients is a powerful and thought-provoking poem that resonates through time. Its themes of impermanence, legacy, and the enduring power of the past are as relevant today as they were when the poem was first written over a century ago. Hardy's masterful use of language and imagery make the poem a joy to read and a testament to the enduring power of poetry to capture the essence of the human experience.
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