Poet's Pick April 13
Thomas Hardy: "During Wind and Rain"
Selected by George Bilgere
National Poetry Month 2018

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George Bilgere's Poetry Month Pick, April 13, 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.


* George Bilgere Comments:
Anyone in love with the rough, strange music of Thomas Hardy will know this poem well. The first time I encountered it was on a sleepy afternoon in a seminar room at Washington University where I was a graduate student back in the seventies. The reader was Howard Nemerov, in whose future waited the Pulitzer Prize and the Poet Laureateship. The book lay open on his lap. A dozen students sat in a circle in overstuffed chairs (some of them smoking, as grad students did in those days). He read through the poem quickly. Then he paused for a moment and read through it again, much more slowly. Then, as I recall (the years!) we talked about it for a few minutes and he read through it once more.  What I felt when I heard him read it in that particular sonorous, impossible-to-describe Nemerovian intonation and cadence was that everything in the room seemed suddenly to be spinning, accelerating. That peaceful afternoon was abruptly sucked into the vortex of time and all of us, teacher and students, were hurtling vertiginously through space. The center could not hold. At any moment the marble fireplace in the room, the massive old chairs, the books on their shelves, all could be flung headlong into the void.

Reading the poem today gives me the same feeling.  It’s something like a time lapse film in which roses bloom and unbloom at the speed of a heart beating and the sun ticks by overhead like a metronome. It gives me the sense that only by a terrifically powerful act of will can I keep my own life from speeding to its close before I can even say goodbye to the faces mooning in the candle, or be charmed by those pet fowl strolling among us on our picnic by the bay. Everything rushes by in a torrent, which abruptly ceases when it meets the implacable dam of the gravestone. Then it slows, nearly stops, dwindles to a mere raindrop that “ploughs” (O perfect word!) the carved names.

So yes: a headlong, spasmodic burst of speed and the sudden, fatal deceleration. Compression and dilation. I read the poem now and Nemerov, the students, my young self, and forty years flare up and go dark like a lightning flash. The poem makes me dizzy and fills me with a wonderful fear.

About George Bilgere:
George Bilgere is the author of Blood Pages, just out from the University of Pittsburgh Press and six previous poetry collections. The White Museum was chosen by Alicia Suskin Ostriker for the Autumn House Poetry Series. His third book, The Good Kiss, was selected by Billy Collins to win the University of Akron Poetry Award. His many other honors include the Midland Authors Award, the May Swenson Poetry Award, and a Pushcart Prize. He is the recipient of grants from the Witter Bynner Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Fulbright Commission, and the Ohio Arts Council.

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