Thursday, December 31, 2009

Thinking about New Year’s Eve Poems….The classic “The Darkling Thrush” by Thomas Hardy and the not-so-classic “Ode to Waffle House” by Dave Smith

The Darkling Thrush by Thomas Hardy

I leant upon a coppice gate
When Frost was spectre-gray,
And Winter's dregs made desolate
The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
Had sought their household fires.

The land's sharp features seemed to be
The Century's corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
Seemed fervourless as I.

At once a voice arose among
The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
Upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings
Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
And I was unaware.

There’s a lot to admire with this poem written on the last day of the century in 1899, but one aspect that I appreciate is the complexity of nature. Nature is not simply one thing: neither innocent nor directive, neither pure nor spiritual, neither benevolent nor malevolent. The speaker notices natural details that his pessimistic mood assigns to gloomy descriptions such as the “specter-gray” frost and all that follows in the first two stanzas. But that does not mean that nature reflects his feelings or is one with man, not in the Wordsworthian sense. Instead, the speaker only notices the happy bird because it is so loud. It’s not that nature is teaching, but more a backdrop for the poet to teach himself. The poet corrects his own mistake in thinking that nature was reflecting his inner state.

And another poem that I came across in the latest issue of Five Points isn’t really about New Year’s Eve but that is where many of us have ended up on this night. It’s “Ode to Waffle House” by Dave Smith. Great idea for a poem and love the title, here is an excerpt of it:

This is the South, kingdom of interstates,
warehouses, guns, journeys, and the Waffle House,

so we get in our cars and our trucks,
we wave our hands this way,
vigorously as if to someone who is dead.
down here there is always one
fifteen miles or less
either way….

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this post and the Hardy poem especially. Your response helped open the poem up for me, since I'm not a huge Hardy fan. Happy New Year!