“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
)
* * * * *

And if these words have turned you gloomy, cheer up a bit,
cherished readers, with The Ramones’s Punk Hymn…

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“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
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