Poet's Pick April 2
Thomas Hardy: "During Wind and Rain"
Selected by Lee Upton
National Poetry Month 2018

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Lee Upton's Poetry Month Pick, April 2, 2018

"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.


* Lee Upton Comments:
Many times over years I’ve returned to Thomas Hardy’s “During Wind and Rain,” never without being drawn up short by that incredible close-up into the furrows of a gravestone: “Down their carved names the rain-drop ploughs.”  That image brings with it the silver sheen of rain and the gray of stone, and even the smell of rain on cold stone—and the recognition of inevitability. The poem is unyielding in its truth and its sorrowful beauty.

Those final words: “the rain-drop ploughs.” One syllable, one-drop words. Here the plosives are so close that when we read them aloud our voices enact finality, a recognition of what will disintegrate human identity. So much depends upon that forceful verb “ploughs” with its suggestion of turning over soil for new growth. But here “ploughs” is put to contrary use as traces of well-maintained, harmonious lives are ravaged, not renewed. 

The power of the poem’s closing depends on everything that comes before it: the family singing, gardening, breakfasting, the wind (or a hand) ripping the rose from the wall.  Each tucked-in refrain announces and mourns the years, side swept and scored by decay, as they pass. A family, good stewards of nature and of their home, must move to their “high new house,” the grave, while all the “brightest things” they had loved will be auctioned. The poem’s serrated edges, its visual patterning, its echoing sound effects: all lead to that stunning, telescopic image of a rain drop wearing away a name on a headstone. The poem makes us experience what can’t ultimately be articulated no matter how often we line up and examine abstractions like time and mortality. The poem, like the rain, won’t obey our wish to deny what we can’t escape. Yet “During Wind and Rain” will allow us, at the same time, incredible beauty, an almost tactile experience of resonant words, line after line.

About Lee Upton:
Lee Upton’s most recent book of poetry is Bottle the Bottles the Bottles the Bottles (Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 2015); her new collection of fiction is Visitations (LSU Press, 2017).

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