An August Midnight

Thomas Hardy - 1840-1928
I

A shaded lamp and a waving blind,
And the beat of a clock from a distant floor:
On this scene enter—winged, horned, and spined—
A longlegs, a moth, and a dumbledore;
While 'mid my page there idly stands
A sleepy fly, that rubs its hands...

II

Thus meet we five, in this still place,
At this point of time, at this point in space.
—My guests besmear my new-penned line,
Or bang at the lamp and fall supine.
"God's humblest, they!" I muse. Yet why?
They know Earth-secrets that know not I.

More by Thomas Hardy

The Voice

Woman much missed, how you call to me, call to me,
Saying that now you are not as you were
When you had changed from the one who was all to me,
But as at first, when our day was fair.

Can it be you that I hear? Let me view you, then,
Standing as when I drew near to the town
Where you would wait for me: yes, as I knew you then,
Even to the original air-blue gown!

Or is it only the breeze in its listlessness
Travelling across the wet mead to me here,
You being ever dissolved to wan wistlessness,
Heard no more again far or near?

   Thus I; faltering forward,
   Leaves around me falling,
Wind oozing thin through the thorn from norward,
   And the woman calling.

The Ruined Maid

"O 'Melia, my dear, this does everything crown!
Who could have supposed I should meet you in Town? 
And whence such fair garments, such prosperi-ty?"--
"O didn't you know I'd been ruined?" said she.

--"You left us in tatters, without shoes or socks,
Tired of digging potatoes, and spudding up docks;
And now you've gay bracelets and bright feathers three!"--
"Yes: that's how we dress when we're ruined," said she.

--"At home in the barton you said 'thee' and 'thou,'
And 'thik oon,' and 'theäs oon,' and 't'other'; but now
Your talking quite fits 'ee for high compa-ny!"--
"Some polish is gained with one's ruin," said she.

--"Your hands were like paws then, your face blue and bleak
But now I'm bewitched by your delicate cheek,
And your little gloves fit as on any la-dy!"--
"We never do work when we're ruined," said she.

--"You used to call home-life a hag-ridden dream,
And you'd sigh, and you'd sock; but at present you seem
To know not of megrims or melancho-ly!"--
"True. One's pretty lively when ruined," said she.  

"--I wish I had feathers, a fine sweeping gown,
And a delicate face, and could strut about Town!"--
"My dear--a raw country girl, such as you be,
Cannot quite expect that. You ain't ruined," said she.

The Convergence of the Twain

(Lines on the loss of the "Titanic")

I

     In a solitude of the sea
     Deep from human vanity,
And the Pride of Life that planned her, stilly couches she.

II

     Steel chambers, late the pyres
     Of her salamandrine fires,
Cold currents thrid, and turn to rhythmic tidal lyres.

III

     Over the mirrors meant
     To glass the opulent
The sea-worm crawls—grotesque, slimed, dumb, indifferent.

IV

     Jewels in joy designed
     To ravish the sensuous mind
Lie lightless, all their sparkles bleared and black and blind.

V

     Dim moon-eyed fishes near
     Gaze at the gilded gear
And query: "What does this vaingloriousness down here?". . .

VI

     Well: while was fashioning
     This creature of cleaving wing,
The Immanent Will that stirs and urges everything

VII

     Prepared a sinister mate
     For her—so gaily great—
A Shape of Ice, for the time far and dissociate.

VIII

     And as the smart ship grew
     In stature, grace, and hue
In shadowy silent distance grew the Iceberg too.

IX

     Alien they seemed to be:
     No mortal eye could see
The intimate welding of their later history.

X

     Or sign that they were bent
     By paths coincident
On being anon twin halves of one August event,

XI

     Till the Spinner of the Years
     Said "Now!" And each one hears,
And consummation comes, and jars two hemispheres.

Related Poems

A Moth in the Projectorlight [excerpt]

          ***

Even if only in photographs—
a laundry truck, seconds after.
Phone in the apartment ringing
above the accident & a coroner
careful enough to stay speechless
until the wind picks up
& the passersby can smell simply
the blood, like fresh wood or
cut metal.

          ***

A boy of six cups his hands
around a wet moth
as he stands up
in the bathtub
releasing it to the mirrorlight.
Beige wingdust on his palm.

          ***

Yellow. The room is orange
& black also. Water
a whistle, draining in his mother’s tub.

          ***
This is the part of the story where
you leave
          & where I come in.
                                        Wait
there
          no—
                    there
around the corner for the signal:
the greenfinch
your twin sisters will
free from the balcony.

          ***

Came around
smelling of rye.
Aluminum dust under his
fingernails.

          ***

Memory opens a little door:
the dark & you listen
with your eyes
& write things in my letter
you’ll pretend later
to forget.

          ***

A kid at the mailbox sings that
your brothers are deader than doorlocks,
that your mother lives
in their teeth.

          ***

                    City of
no center, broke-lit
from the team of horses
asleep standing
under the great lamps.

          ***

A curse of split melon
on the kitchen counter

draws me out into the snowdrift.
White heat from the boy’s breath
& the toy house’s tiny doorbell
chimes somehow in the empty room
startling the cat.

          ***

You took your apricot dress to the drycleaners
& left it forever.

          ***

Haystink, humming street ruckus, moonlit
thumb-slice—
Each evening I peek into that mailbox
for what my father’s unable to tell me
on the edge of my own bed
feeling that
morning will scorch
into the sockets of his arms
& that he is
drinking           sorry again
Anna           sleep
sorry again.