Poet's Pick April 17
Thomas Hardy: "During Wind and Rain"
Selected by Thomas Reiter
National Poetry Month 2015

Letter from the Editors

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Thomas Reiter's Poetry Month Pick, April 17, 2015

"During Wind and Rain"
by Thomas Hardy (1840 - 1928)

      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 Reiter Comments:

Back in the day, when I was a grad student at the University of Virginia, I was given a gift by the inestimable George Garrett. We happened to meet in passing one morning in a corridor of Cabell Hall, the main building for English classes and offices. When we came abreast of each other he flashed that trademark smile and said, “Read Thomas Hardy’s ‘During Wind and Rain,’” after which he continued on his way. My abruptly-changed way then was to the bookstore and a collection of Hardy’s poems. Over the next few weeks I came to the poem almost daily, eye and ear, and felt it giving more and more to this apprentice poet.

Several years later, on a break from topless towers of student essays, I was re-reading James Baldwin’s great short story “Sonny’s Blues,” stunned as always by the tableau of the narrator’s parents and their church friends and relatives, at ease after a big Sunday dinner and talking about where they came from and what they’ve experienced, good times and bad. Meanwhile darkness is insinuating itself into the room, shadows fall across the voices, and soon the last story trails off. Then lights are turned on and the child-version of the narrator knows—intuits—that more has ended, gone into the darkness, than reminiscence. In the midst of Baldwin’s wondrous telling I suddenly found myself in possession of “During Wind and Rain,” top to bottom, not realizing I still had it down by heart. Where to this day it reaches out from time to time. Aren’t works of art as spiritually questing as the filaments Whitman’s “noiseless patient spider” issues forth, “seeking the spheres to connect them”?

I don’t intend here to do the kind of close technical analysis that used to be found, much to students’ delight, in The Explicator. I’d rather highlight what made the poem memorable to me. I came to love “During Wind and Rain” for the sense in which the saying of it discovers its content and purpose. The poem’s motive and marshalling of materials are aimed at making the reader co-discoverer. Who are we? What are we here for? What are the signs to be read in nature by way of answering these questions? Meaning makes its way to the reader’s sensibility in every aspect of the text, its gravitas and agility. The architecture of stanzas is prominent and indelible, discrete units yet with vital connective tissue, a tolling yet changes also rung, energy arising from both reinforcement and counterpoint. The poem, Hardy has indicated, is based on scenes his wife remembered from childhood. That is, pleasant memories followed by imagery of mutability, of menace and deterioration. A dark poem tonally, no doubt of it, shadows falling across the voices—“Ah, no; the years O! / And the rotten rose is ripped from the wall”—yet the ear takes a kind of pleasure in the play and by-play of rhythmic and sonic effects. The result is a poem so arresting and valuable that I want to stop students in the corridor and say, Put aside your texting for a time and attend this event of wind and rain. Invite it in. The filaments are reaching toward you.

About Thomas Reiter:
Thomas Reiter's most recent book of poems, Catchment, was published by Louisiana State University Press in 2009. He has received fellowships from the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. His poems have appeared in Poetry, The Southern Review, The Georgia Review, The Hudson Review, The Sewanee Review, The Gettysburg Review, and The Kenyon Review. He is Professor of Humanities Emeritus at Monmouth University, where he held the Wayne D. McMurray Endowed Chair in the Humanities.

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