“Ah, Are You Digging On My Grave?” – A poem about Life and Death, by Thomas Hardy (1840-1928)

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Ah, Are You Digging On My Grave?
Thomas Hardy

“Ah, are you digging on my grave 
          My loved one? — planting rue?” 
— “No, yesterday he went to wed 
One of the brightest wealth has bred. 
‘It cannot hurt her now,’ he said, 
          ‘That I should not be true.'” 

“Then who is digging on my grave?
My nearest dearest kin?”
— “Ah, no; they sit and think, ‘What use!
What good will planting flowers produce?
No tendance of her mound can loose
Her spirit from Death’s gin.’ “

“But some one digs upon my grave?
My enemy? — prodding sly?”
— “Nay: when she heard you had passed the Gate
That shuts on all flesh soon or late,
She thought you no more worth her hate,
And cares not where you lie.”

“Then, who is digging on my grave?
Say — since I have not guessed!”
— “O it is I, my mistress dear,
Your little dog, who still lives near,
And much I hope my movements here
Have not disturbed your rest?”

“Ah yes! You  dig upon my grave . . .
Why flashed it not on me
That one true heart was left behind!
What feeling do we ever find
To equal among human kind
A dog’s fidelity!”

“Mistress, I dug upon your grave
To bury a bone, in case
I should be hungry near this spot
When passing on my daily trot.
I am sorry, but I quite forgot
It was your resting-place.”

* * * * *

You might also enjoy, as companion piece,
THOMAS HARDY’S Afterwards (poem)
(With comments by JOSEPH BRODKSY
)
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And if these words have turned you gloomy, cheer up a bit,
cherished readers, with The Ramones’s Punk Hymn…

“Verses in April”, by Joseph Brodsky

Brodsky

Before April – “the cruellest of months” – is gone, I’d like to share a marvellous poem by comrade Brodsky, whose calid words helped me out a lot in the task of not going mad during the previous months of frosty temperatures. Reading his poems has been a solace to keep me sane through the whirlwinds and snowstorms and frozen landscapes of my first Canadian winter. It was hardcore winter, for sure, and I wish myself well at the coming of spring!…

VERSES IN APRIL
by Joseph Brodsky (April 1969)

Once again this past winter
I did not go mad. As for winter itself –
one glances; it’s gone. But I can divide
the din of ice cracking from the green
shroud of earth. So I’m sane.
I wish myself well
at the coming of spring;
blinded by the Fontanka (1),
I break myself up into dozens of parts.
I run my flat hand
up and over my face. The snow-crust is settling
in my brain, as it does in the woods.

Having lived to the time of gray hairs,
I observe how a tug threads its way,
among ice floes, toward open sea.
For me
to forgive you in writing would be
just as harsh and unfair
as to charge you with wrong.
Please excuse me
for this lofty style:
though there’s no end to our discontent,
there’s an end to our winters (2).
For the essence of change lies in this –
in the wrangling of Muses who swarm
at Mnemosyne’s banquet.

 

NOTES

(1) The Fontanka is one of the majors rivers in Leningrad, the other being the Neva. In April its surface would be “blinding” because still covered with ice.

(2) Cf. the opening lines of Shakespeare’s Richard III:
Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York.

“Afterwards”, a poem by Thomas Hardy [Precious Poetry – 8th Edition] – With comments by Joseph Brodsky

life-after-death
Afterwards

When the Present has latched its postern behind my tremulous stay,
And the May month flaps its glad green leaves like wings,
Delicate-filmed as new-spun silk, will the neighbours say,
“He was a man who used to notice such things”?

If it be in the dusk when, like an eyelid’s soundless blink,
The dewfall-hawk comes crossing the shades to alight
Upon the wind-warped upland thorn, a gazer may think,
“To him this must have been a familiar sight.”

If I pass during some nocturnal blackness, mothy and warm,
When the hedgehog travels furtively over the lawn,
One may say, “He strove that such innocent creatures should come to no harm,
But he could do little for them; and now he is gone.”

If, when hearing that I have been stilled at last, they stand at the door,
Watching the full-starred heavens that winter sees
Will this thought rise on those who will meet my face no more,
“He was one who had an eye for such mysteries”?

And will any say when my bell of quittance is heard in the gloom
And a crossing breeze cuts a pause in its outrollings,
Till they rise again, as they were a new bell’s boom,
“He hears it not now, but used to notice such things”?

* * * * *

“Afterwards” was written around 1917, when Hardy was 77 years old. Joseph Brodsky, in his article “Wooing the Inanimate”, states that “the conceit in this poem is fairly simple: while considering his imminent passing, the poet produces cameo representations of each of the four seasons as his departure’s probable backdrop. Remarkably well served by its title and free of the emotional investment usually accompanying a poet when such prospects are entertained, the poem proceed at a pace of melancholy meditation – which is what Mr. Hardy, one images, wanted it to be.”

Brodsky backs up his claims about the poet’s melancholia by interpreting some of his verses as follows: “I tend to think that ‘an eyelid’s soundless blink’ is a reference to Petrarch’s ‘one life is shorter than an eyelid’s blink’; ‘Afterwards’, as we know, is a poem about one’s demise.” While the seasons drift and change, the poet feels his “tremulous stay” (an expression that can evoke a candle in the wind) and yet imagines what will happen when he’s gone: will others, witnessing the starry skies in winter, remember him and think: “He was one who had an eye for such mysteries?”

Brodsky also claims that “Thomas Hardy’s poetry makes considerable inroads into what is the target of all cognition: inanimate matter. Our species embarked on this quest long ago, rightly suspecting that we share our own cellular mix-up with the stuff, and that should the truth about the world exist, it’s bound to be nonhuman. (…) Come to think of it, the expression ‘matter-of-fact’ could well apply to his idiom, except that the emphasis would be on matter. His poems very often sound as if matter has acquired the power of speech…” (BRODSKY, On Grief and Reason, p. 366 and 374, Harper Collins, 1995)

ThomasHardy
Other poets you might enjoy:

Precious Poetry – 4th Edition – Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken”

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The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost

* * * * *

“Complete Poems of Robert Frost”

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Download e-book (16 mb)

Previously on the Precious Poetry series of this blog:

#01 – Emily Dickinson
#02 – Joseph Brodsky
#03 – John Donne

Language will outlive us – By Joseph Brodsky (1940-1996)

Brodsky

“A poet always knows that what in the vernacular is called the voice of the Muse is, in reality, the dictate of language; that it’s not the language that happens to be his instrument, but that he is language’s mean toward the continuation of its existence. Language, however, even if one imagines it as a certain animate creature (which would only be just), is not capable of ethical choice.

A person sets out to write a poem for a variety of reasons: to win the heart of his beloved; to express his attitude toward the reality surrounding him, be it a landscape or a state; to capture his state of mind at a given instant; to leave – as he thinks at that moment – a trace on the earth. (…) Regardless of the reasons for which he takes up the pen, and regardless of the effect produced by what emerges from under that pen on his audience – however great or small it may be – the immediate consequence of this enterprise is the sensation of coming into direct contact with language, or more precisely, the sensation of immediately falling into dependence on it, on everything that has already been uttered, written, and accomplished in it.

The poet, I wish to repeat, is language’s means of existence – or, as my beloved Auden said, he is the one by whom it lives. I who write this lines will cease to be; so will you who read them. But the language in which they are written and in which you read them will remain, not merely because language is a more lasting thing than man, but because it is more capable of mutation.”

JOSEPH BRODSKY (1940-1996)

Russian poet and essayist

In: “On Grief and Reason”

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Here’s one of my favorite Brodsky’s poems:

Song of Welcome

Here’s your Mom, here’s your Dad.
Welcome to being their flesh and blood.
Why do you look so sad?

Here’s your food, here’s your drink.
Also some thoughts, if you care to think.
Welcome to everything.

Here’s your practically clean slate.
Welcome to it, though it’s kind of late.
Welcome at any rate.

Here’s your paycheck, here’s your rent.
Money is nature’s fifth element.
Welcome to every cent.

Here’s your swarm and your huge beehive.
Welcome to that there’s roughly five
billion like you alive.

Welcome to the phone book that stars your name
Digits are democracy’s secret aim.
Welcome to your claim to fame.

Here’s your marriage, and here’s divorce.
Now that’s the order you can’t reverse.
Welcome to it; up yours.

Here’s your blade, here’s your wrist.
Welcome to playing your own terrorist;
call this your Middle East.

Here’s your mirror, your dental gleam.
Here’s an octopus in your dream.
Why do you try to scream?

Here’s your corn-cob, your TV set.
Your candidate suffering an upset.
Welcome to what he said.

Here’s your porch, see the cars pass by.
Here’s your shitting dog’s guilty eye.
Welcome to its alibi.

Here are your cicadas, then a chickadee,
the bulb’s dry tear in your lemon tea.
Welcome to infinity.

Here are your pills on the plastic tray,
Your disappointing, crisp X-ray.
You are welcome to pray.

Here’s your cemetery, a well kept glen.
Welcome to a voice that says, “Amen.”
The end of the rope, old man.

Here’s your will, and here’s a few
takers. Here’s an empty pew.
Here’s life after you.

And here are your stars which appear still keen
on shining as though you had never been.
They might have a point, old bean.

Here’s your afterlife, with no trace
of you, especially of your face.
Welcome, and call it space.

Welcome to where one cannot breathe.
This way, space resembles what’s underneath
and Saturn holds the wreath.

© 1994, Joseph Brodsky