Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Memorization Test: Song of Hope

Every now and then we all have to cut our losses. There are days when, for some reason, nothing goes right. Some say it's getting up on the wrong side of the bed or it's just not their day. Regardless, it is a unifying human experience to sometimes wish a day would just end.

Thomas Hardy was the son of a stonemason, born in Dorset England. At 16, after being educated at Mr. Last's Academy for Young Gentlemen, he went off to become an architect's apprentice. He eventually spent some time at King's College and found his way into some interesting employment.

Once, Hardy was in charge of excavating a graveyard to make way for a railroad. I can only imagine what it must have been like to wake up each morning during that job. Moving the dead after they've been buried has to be disconcerting.
Thomas Hardy and Emma Lavinia Gifford


Later, Hardy fell in love and married Emma Lavinia Gifford, a woman he stood by for 28 years, although at the end of her life they had fallen out with one another. Even so, when she died, Hardy was never quite the same. He ended up marrying another woman who was almost forty years younger than him, presumably a literary fan. He was said to dictate his last poem to her while he was on his deathbed.
Hardy with Florence Dugdale,
his second wife


I sometimes wonder what it must have been like for Hardy the year after his first wife died. I wonder what he agonized over and what he regretted the most. There really is no pain deeper than the crushing realization that the window of opportunity to right a wrong has closed. It stings deeply to gaze into the past and recognize those indelible moments when we, ourselves, committed our most grave errors. After 30 years of marriage, I can only imagine how intensely Hardy must have wished he could have wound back the clocks in order to wipe whatever feud had divided his marriage. For me, his second marriage said everything. What kind of serious interpersonal relationship can a widower, especially one as intelligent as Hardy, hope to achieve by marrying a woman 40 years his junior?

Even in the throes of this despair, the lines of Song of Hope shine like sunlight. They represent the eternal resilience of mankind. That no matter what hole we find ourselves in, if we choose, we can find a new beginning when the sun comes up again. In the darkest times of my own life, I've felt this sentiment, so beautifully put into words by Thomas Hardy.

Song of Hope

O sweet To-morrow! -
     After to-day
     There will away
This sense of sorrow.
Then let us borrow
Hope, for the gleaming
Soon will be streaming,
     Dimmed by no gray -
     No gray!

While the winds wing us
     Sighs from the Gone,
     Nearer to dawn
Minute beats bring us;
Then there will sing us
Larks of a glory
Waiting our story
     Further anon -
     Anon!

Doff the black token
     Don the red shoon,
     Right and retune
Viol-strings broken;
Null the words spoken
In speeches of rueing,
The night cloud is hueing,
     To-morrow shines soon -
     Shines soon!

-Thomas Hardy