An August Midnight

Another Thomas Hardy poem, but quite different from the last one. I suspect that few of us welcome insects into our homes.   We might just be more tolerant of bumblebees (Hardy’s dumbledore) as we tend to view these more positively than we do flies, although we know they are better off outside.

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 …


Thus meet we five, in this still place,

At this point of time, at this point in space.

My guests parade my new-penned ink,

Or bang at the lamp-glass, whirl, and sink.

“God’s humblest, they!” I muse. Yet why?

They know Earth-secrets that know not I.

In Time of The Breaking of Nations

Thomas Hardy’s picture of everyday country life, far away from battlefields, could have been drawn from life round here a hundred years ago. Though a man harrowing with a horse seems so distant now, other things endure.

Only a man harrowing clods

In a slow silent walk

With an old horse that stumbles and nods

Half asleep as they stalk.


Only thin smoke without flame

From the heaps of couch-grass;

Yet this will go onward the same

Though Dynasties pass.


Yonder a maid and her wight

Come whispering by:

War’s annals will cloud into night

Ere their story die.

Proud Songsters

The thrushes sing as the sun is going,
And the finches whistle in ones and pairs,
And as it gets dark loud nightingales
In bushes
Pipe, as they can when April wears,
As if all Time were theirs.

These are brand new birds of twelvemonth’s growing,
Which a year ago, or less than twain,
No finches were, nor nightingales,
Nor thrushes,
But only particles of grain,
And earth, and air and rain.

Whilst finches and thrushes are commonly sights in the village, I have never ever heard a real nightingale, anywhere, let alone seen one.  From April to June the male sings to attract a mate and its music has inspired poets such as Keats and Coleridge as well as Thomas Hardy.  The Wiltshire Wildlife Trust says that the nightingale song is fast disappearing from the countryside with the population having fallen by up to 90% over the last 40 years.  It is thought that problems in their African wintering grounds and habitat losses in this country are the problem.  So, in February, the Trust planted some 1700 trees on one of its reserves near to a known nightingale site with a view to providing a habitat away from human encroachment.  Nightingales nest in low scrub or coppiced woodland, with a variety of undergrowth plants such as brambles and honeysuckle that provide nesting sites and insects to feed on.  So, maybe one day I shall hear that song.  Meanwhile, the wistful and rather hypnotic Hardy will have to do: a poem first published in Winter Words following his death in 1928, and often set to music since then.

April 2011