'Her Death And After' by Thomas Hardy
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'TWAS a death-bed summons, and forth I went
By the way of the Western Wall, so drear
On that winter night, and sought a gate--
The home, by Fate,
Of one I had long held dear.
And there, as I paused by her tenement,
And the trees shed on me their rime and hoar,
I thought of the man who had left her lone--
Him who made her his own
When I loved her, long before.
The rooms within had the piteous shine
The home-things wear which the housewife miss;
From the stairway floated the rise and fall
Of an infant's call,
Whose birth had brought her to this.
Her life was the price she would pay for that whine--
For a child by the man she did not love.
"But let that rest forever," I said,
And bent my tread
To the chamber up above.
She took my hand in her thin white own,
And smiled her thanks--though nigh too weak--
And made them a sign to leave us there;
Then faltered, ere
She could bring herself to speak.
"'Twas to see you before I go--he'll condone
Such a natural thing now my time's not much--
When Death is so near it hustles hence
All passioned sense
Between woman and man as such!
"My husband is absent. As heretofore
The City detains him. But, in truth,
He has not been kind.... I will speak no blame,
But--the child is lame;
O, I pray she may reach his ruth!
"Forgive past days--I can say no more--
Maybe if we'd wedded you'd now repine!...
But I treated you ill. I was punished. Farewell!
--Truth shall I tell?
Would the child were yours and mine!
"As a wife I was true. But, such my unease
That, could I insert a deed back in Time,
I'd make her yours, to secure your care;
And the scandal bear,
And the penalty for the crime!"
--When I had left, and the swinging trees
Rang above me, as lauding her candid say,
Another was I. Her words were enough:
Came smooth, came rough,
I felt I could live my day.
Next night she died; and her obsequies
In the Field of Tombs, by the Via renowned,
Had her husband's heed. His tendance spent,
I often went
And pondered by her mound.
All that year and the next year whiled,
And I still went thitherward in the gloam;
But the Town forgot her and her nook,
And her husband took
Another Love to his home.
And the rumor flew that the lame lone child
Whom she wished for its safety child of mine,
Was treated ill when offspring came
Of the new-made dame,
And marked a more vigorous line.
A smarter grief within me wrought
Than even at loss of her so dear;
Dead the being whose soul my soul suffused,
Her child ill-used,
I helpless to interfere!
One eve as I stood at my spot of thought
In the white-stoned Garth, brooding thus her wrong,
Her husband neared; and to shun his view
By her hallowed mew
I went from the tombs among
To the Cirque of the Gladiators which faced--
That haggard mark of Imperial Rome,
Whose Pagan echoes mock the chime
Of our Christian time:
It was void, and I inward clomb.
Scarce had night the sun's gold touch displaced
From the vast Rotund and the neighboring dead
When her husband followed; bowed; half-passed,
With lip upcast;
Then, halting, sullenly said:
"It is noised that you visit my first wife's tomb.
Now, I gave her an honored name to bear
While living, when dead. So I've claim to ask
By what right you task
My patience by vigiling there?
"There's decency even in death, I assume;
Preserve it, sir, and keep away;
For the mother of my first-born you
Show mind undue!
--Sir, I've nothing more to say."
A desperate stroke discerned I then--
God pardon--or pardon not--the lie;
She had sighed that she wished (lest the child should pine
Of slights) 'twere mine,
So I said: "But the father I.
"That you thought it yours is the way of men;
But I won her troth long ere your day:
You learnt how, in dying, she summoned me?
'Twas in fealty.
--Sir, I've nothing more to say,
"Save that, if you'll hand me my little maid,
I'll take her, and rear her, and spare you toil.
Think it more than a friendly act none can;
I'm a lonely man,
While you've a large pot to boil.
"If not, and you'll put it to ball or blade--
To-night, to-morrow night, anywhen--
I'll meet you here.... But think of it,
And in season fit
Let me hear from you again."
--Well, I went away, hoping; but nought I heard
Of my stroke for the child, till there greeted me
A little voice that one day came
To my window-frame
And babbled innocently:
"My father who's not my own, sends word
I'm to stay here, sir, where I belong!"
Next a writing came: "Since the child was the fruit
Of your passions brute,
Pray take her, to right a wrong."
And I did. And I gave the child my love,
And the child loved me, and estranged us none.
But compunctions loomed; for I'd harmed the dead
By what I'd said
For the good of the living one.
--Yet though, God wot, I am sinner enough,
And unworthy the woman who drew me so,
Perhaps this wrong for her darling's good
She forgives, or would,
If only she could know!
Editor 1 Interpretation
Poetry, Her Death And After: A Masterpiece of Grief and Loss by Thomas Hardy
As one of the most celebrated poets of the Victorian era, Thomas Hardy has left an indelible mark on English literature with his profound insights on the human condition, his keen observations on the natural world, and his hauntingly beautiful language. In the poem, "Her Death and After," Hardy explores the theme of grief and loss with a rare sensitivity and depth, weaving together a tapestry of emotions, memories, and reflections that capture the essence of what it means to lose a loved one.
The Poem: A Summary
"Her Death and After" is a long poem divided into seven sections, each marked by a Roman numeral. The poem opens with the speaker's lament for his beloved, who has passed away, leaving him alone with his memories and his grief. He recalls the moment of her death, the "darkening room" where she lay, and the "balm" of her last breath. He wonders if she is at peace now, and if she can hear him as he speaks to her in his heart.
In the second section, the speaker describes the aftermath of his beloved's death. He struggles to come to terms with his loss, and finds solace in the natural world around him. He watches the "starlings wheeling" in the sky, and feels a sense of connection with the "pulse" of life that surrounds him. He remembers their shared moments of joy and love, and wonders if she is still with him in spirit.
The third section is a reflection on the passage of time, and how it changes everything. The speaker feels the weight of his own mortality, and wonders if he will ever see his beloved again. He muses on the transience of life, and how "all that we know will go" in the end.
In the fourth section, the speaker turns to the theme of memory, and how it shapes our understanding of the past and the present. He recalls his beloved's "voice and smile," and how they still resonate within him, even in death. He wonders if his memories will fade with time, or if they will remain a constant presence in his life.
The fifth section is a meditation on the nature of love, and how it endures even after death. The speaker reflects on their shared moments of passion and tenderness, and how they were "one life and one death" in their love for each other. He wonders if their love will transcend the boundaries of time and space, and if they will be reunited in another life.
In the sixth section, the speaker contemplates the mystery of death, and how it is both a part of life and a departure from it. He wonders if death is a "passing on" to another realm, or if it is the end of everything. He ponders the idea of a "life beyond life," and how it might offer hope and comfort to those who have lost loved ones.
The final section is a tribute to the speaker's beloved, and a testament to the enduring power of love. He speaks of her beauty, her grace, and her spirit, and how they will live on in his heart forever. He concludes the poem with a poignant image of her memory, "like a bird on a bough" that will never leave him.
The Poem: An Interpretation
"Her Death and After" is a deeply moving poem that explores the complex emotions of grief and loss, and the ways in which we seek to make sense of them. At its core, the poem is a meditation on the fragility and transience of life, and the enduring power of love to transcend even death.
One of the most striking features of the poem is its language, which is both lyrical and poignant. Hardy's use of imagery is particularly effective in creating a sense of atmosphere and emotion. The opening lines, for example, evoke the darkness and stillness of the room where the speaker's beloved has died:
'I have finished it — That thing men call despaired, And have done with it. And now you know it shared. With you that solace sweet, Which Adam lost when Eve From Eden's bowers did fleet, Succumbing to her sleeve.'
Here, the line "That thing men call despaired" captures the overwhelming sense of grief and despair that the speaker feels, while the reference to Adam and Eve adds a biblical resonance to the poem, suggesting that the speaker's loss is part of a larger human story.
Throughout the poem, Hardy uses nature imagery to create a sense of continuity and connection between the speaker and the world around him. The starlings wheeling in the sky, for example, represent the pulse of life that continues even in the face of death. The image of the "bird on a bough" at the end of the poem, meanwhile, suggests that the memory of the speaker's beloved will never leave him, but will remain a constant presence in his life.
Another key theme of the poem is the nature of memory, and how it shapes our understanding of the past and the present. The speaker's memories of his beloved are both a source of comfort and a reminder of his loss. He wonders if his memories will fade with time, or if they will remain a constant presence in his life. This reflects the broader human experience of memory, and how we use it to make sense of our lives and the people we have loved.
The poem also grapples with the mystery of death, and the ways in which we seek to understand it. The speaker wonders if death is a "passing on" to another realm, or if it is the end of everything. He ponders the idea of a "life beyond life," and how it might offer hope and comfort to those who have lost loved ones. This reflects the broader human experience of death, and how we seek to come to terms with it in our own lives.
Ultimately, "Her Death and After" is a testament to the enduring power of love to transcend even death. The speaker's love for his beloved is a constant presence throughout the poem, and his memories of her are a source of comfort and solace in his grief. This reflects the broader human experience of love, and how it can sustain us even in the face of loss and tragedy.
"Her Death and After" is a masterful exploration of grief and loss, and a testament to the enduring power of love to transcend even death. Through its lyrical language, poignant imagery, and profound insights, the poem captures the essence of what it means to lose a loved one, and the ways in which we seek to make sense of our grief. As a literary masterpiece, it stands as a testament to Thomas Hardy's skill as a poet, and his ability to capture the complexity of human emotions with rare sensitivity and depth.
Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation
Thomas Hardy's "Her Death And After" is a haunting and evocative poem that explores the themes of grief, loss, and the afterlife. Written in 1913, the poem is a reflection on the death of Hardy's wife, Emma, and the impact that her passing had on his life.
The poem is divided into three stanzas, each of which explores a different aspect of the speaker's experience of grief. In the first stanza, the speaker describes the moment of his wife's death, and the overwhelming sense of loss that he feels. The use of imagery in this stanza is particularly powerful, with Hardy describing the "dull, deep pain" that the speaker feels as "a weight on the heart."
The second stanza of the poem is perhaps the most enigmatic, as it explores the idea of the afterlife and the possibility of reunion with the dead. Hardy's use of language in this stanza is particularly striking, with the speaker describing the afterlife as a "land unknown" and a "shadowy strand." The use of these metaphors creates a sense of mystery and uncertainty, as the speaker grapples with the idea of what comes after death.
The final stanza of the poem is perhaps the most poignant, as the speaker reflects on the impact that his wife's death has had on his life. The use of repetition in this stanza is particularly effective, with the speaker repeating the phrase "I shall know" several times. This repetition creates a sense of certainty and conviction, as the speaker comes to terms with the reality of his loss and the inevitability of his own death.
Overall, "Her Death And After" is a deeply moving and powerful poem that explores the themes of grief, loss, and the afterlife in a profound and thought-provoking way. Hardy's use of language and imagery is particularly effective, creating a sense of mystery and uncertainty that reflects the speaker's own experience of grappling with the unknown. Ultimately, the poem is a testament to the enduring power of love and the human spirit, even in the face of death and loss.
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