Teaching

Two poems by Thomas Hardy:

A Circular

As ‘legal representative’
I read a missive not my own,
On new designs the senders give
For clothes, in tints as shown.

Here figure blouses, gowns for tea,
And presentation-trains of state,
Charming ball-dresses, millinery,
Warranted up to date.

And this gay-pictured, spring-time shout
Of Fashion, hails what lady proud?
Her who before last year was out
Was costumed in a shroud.

Are You Digging on My Grave?

“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 someone 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 to 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.”

[The second Hardy poem feels strongly to me like a variation on this terrifying 17th century Scottish ballad.]

The Twa Corbies

As I was walking all alane
I heard twa corbies making a mane:
The tane unto the tither did say,
‘Whar sall we gang and dine the day?’

‘–In behint yon auld fail dyke
I wot there lies a new-slain knight;
And naebody kens that he lies there
But his hawk, his hound, and his lady fair.

‘His hound is to the hunting gane,
His hawk to fetch the wild-fowl hame,
His lady ‘s ta’en anither mate,
So we may mak our dinner sweet.

‘Ye’ll sit on his white hause-bane,
And I’ll pike out his bonny blue e’en:
Wi’ ae lock o’ his gowden hair
We’ll theek our nest when it grows bare.

‘Mony a one for him maks mane,
But nane sall ken whar he is gane:
O’er his white banes, when they are bare,
The wind sall blaw for evermair.’

Two poems by William Carlos Williams

The Widow’s Lament in Springtime

Sorrow is my own yard
where the new grass
flames as it has flamed
often before but not
with the cold fire
that closes round me this year.
Thirtyfive years
I lived with my husband.
The plumtree is white today
with masses of flowers.
Masses of flowers
load the cherry branches
and color some bushes
yellow and some red
but the grief in my heart
is stronger than they
for though they were my joy
formerly, today I notice them
and turn away forgetting.
Today my son told me
that in the meadows,
at the edge of the heavy woods
in the distance, he saw
trees of white flowers.
I feel that I would like
to go there
and fall into those flowers
and sink into the marsh near them.

The Last Words of My English Grandmother

There were some dirty plates
and a glass of milk
beside her on a small table
near the rank, disheveled bed—

Wrinkled and nearly blind
she lay and snored
rousing with anger in her tones
to cry for food,

Gimme something to eat—
They’re starving me—
I’m all right I won’t go
to the hospital. No, no, no

Give me something to eat
Let me take you
to the hospital, I said
and after you are well

you can do as you please.
She smiled, Yes
you do what you please first
then I can do what I please—

Oh, oh, oh! she cried
as the ambulance men lifted
her to the stretcher—
Is this what you call

making me comfortable?
By now her mind was clear—
Oh you think you’re smart
you young people,

she said, but I’ll tell you
you don’t know anything.
Then we started.
On the way

we passed a long row
of elms. She looked at them
awhile out of
the ambulance window and said,

What are all those
fuzzy-looking things out there?
Trees? Well, I’m tired
of them and rolled her head away.