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The Sunday Poem: Anthony Cronin’s Personal Anthology

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Ulster Harvest circa 1935: a farm labourer at work with a scythe in County Antrim.

Ulster Harvest circa 1935: a farm labourer at work with a scythe in County Antrim.

Ulster Harvest circa 1935: a farm labourer at work with a scythe in County Antrim.

After the success of Far From The Madding Crowd, when he was 34, Hardy became a professional and prolific novelist. But he always regarded fiction as an inferior vehicle of expression compared to poetry, and as reviewers grew increasingly hostile to what they called the "pessimism" and "immorality" of his novels, in particular Tess Of The D'Urbervilles and Jude The Obscure, he gave up the writing of fiction altogether.

Instead, he turned solely to verse, even though the eight collections he published before his death in 1928 found few enough admirers among the reviewers. The death in 1912 of his first wife, who is probably the subject of When Oats Were Reaped, released a flood of nostalgic and regretful poems. Though I believe both nostalgia and regret are dubious emotions where poetry is concerned, I am pleased by the economy and acceptance here.

 

WHEN OATS WERE REAPED

Thomas Hardy

That day when oats were reaped, and wheat was ripe, and barley ripening,

The road-dust hot, and the bleaching grasses dry

I walked along and said,

While looking just ahead to where some silent people lie:

"I wounded one who's there, and now know well I wounded her;

But ah, she does not know that she wounded me."

And not an air stirred,

Nor a bill of any bird; and no response accorded she.

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