“Poor wanderer,” said the leaden sky,
“I fain would lighten thee,
But there be laws in force on high
Which say it must not be.”
– “I would not freeze thee, shorn one,” cried
The North, “knew I but how
To warm my breath, to slack my stride;
But I am ruled as thou.”
– “To-morrow I attack thee, wight,”
Said Sickness. “Yet I swear
I bear thy little ark no spite,
But am bid enter there.“
– “Come hither, Son,” I heard Death say;
“I did not will a grave
Should end thy pilgrimage to-day,
But I, too, am a slave!”
We smiled upon each other then,
And life to me wore less
That fell contour it wore ere when
They owned their passiveness.
This poem is a compliment to Hap, the poem which sorrows for the meaninglessness of pain in a world without even a spiteful god.
Here there is a rule, but no meaning. Death and pain are built into the fabric of things; the come by compulsion.
He even seems to make a friend of pain and death, “We smiled on each other then”. What a curious line. I believe that line makes the poem neither cynical nor cute. There is something Stoic about a smile upon death (because death cannot help it). But unlike the Stoics I don’t know that Hardy held to any universal Reason.
What then is the rule or force from “on high”? The crushing nature of the world is unavoidable but not meaningful.
A matter which might make for a n interesting comparison in this point Hardy and the younger American H.P. Lovecraft saw a terror in the world which sprang from something ancient.
One made the terror more superhuman and pre-human in source. The other lodged pain in bones of civilization.
But neither could make sense of the horror of this world. Yet, they could sketch its contour with rare skill.