Thomas Hardy: During Wind and Rain

During Wind and Rain

They sing their dearest songs—
He, she, all of them—yea,
Treble and tenor and bass,
And one to play;
With the candles mooning each face ...
Ah, no; the years O!
How the sick leaves reel down in throngs!

They clear the creeping moss—
Elders and juniors—aye,
Making the pathways neat
And the garden gay;
And they build a shady seat…
Ah, no; the years, the years;
See the white storm-birds wing across!

They are blithely breakfasting all—
Men and maidens—yea,
Under the summer tree,
With a glimpse of the bay,
While pet fowl come to the knee…
Ah, no; the years O!
And the rotten rose is ript from the wall.

They change to a high new house,
He, she, all of them—aye,
Clocks and carpets and chairs
On the lawn all day,
And brightest things that are theirs…
Ah, no; the years, the years;
Down their carved names the rain-drop ploughs.

(Thomas Hardy)

I have always found this a good poem to look at in terms of structure and shape: it poses some straightforward questions about domestic experiences and allows pupils to come to a realisation of how stanzas fit together in a clear pattern. After reading the poem twice to a class I ask small groups to take a stanza each and give them the following areas to look at:

  • What are the people doing in the first five lines?
  • What time of year do you think it is?
  • What is the effect of the sixth line?
  • What does the seventh line seem to refer to?

The following notes give an idea, stanza by stanza, of the sort of response I am looking for.

  1. Here there is a domestic feeling of a family singing; there is one person who is playing a musical accompaniment. The warmth of feeling is captured by the words 'their dearest songs' since they carry the implication that this is an activity which is regularly enjoyed. The time is possibly Winter with the dark interior of the house lit up by candles which light up different parts of the family faces in the way the moon appears to be either full or shaded. The sixth line seems to convey a break in the picture caused by time and the last line has a chill sense of Autumn-Winter with the leaves falling.
  2. The family here is clearing the garden in the Spring: they are tidying up after Winter and preparing for the coming Summer by building 'a shady seat'. The sixth line has a musical refrain with the repetition of 'the years, the years' which carries with it a note of sadness and the last line may refer to seagulls flying inland to avoid wintry weather.
  3. Here we are presented with breakfast outside in the Summer, overlooking the sea; there is a domestic harmony with the chickens (pets) collecting around the table for crumbs. The sixth line repeats the break in the picture as in stanza one and the last line suggests flowers being cut back after they have finished flowering at Summer's end.
  4. The family are moving house and we still seem to be in the Summer with the long days being used to collect their personal belongings on the lawn before being moved inside. The glow of 'brightest things' has a sense of value as well as some memory shining in the mind. The last line places the poet in a graveyard watching the rain drops move down the carved names on the gravestones.

This last stanza brings us to the position of the poet standing 'during wind and rain' in the graveyard where he can see the names of family/friends. The gravestones act as catalysts for thought taking him back to a former time (a little like old photographs remind one of moments now gone). I tend to emphasize the importance of the word 'ploughs' since the poem surely ends on a more positive note than simply one of regret. Ploughing is the agricultural activity of preparing land for new life and the act of memory brings those long-gone moments back again, albeit briefly.

Ian Brinton

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