LAUSANNE IN GIBBON’S OLD GARDEN: 11-12 P.M. June 27, 1897 (The 110th anniversary of the completion of the “Decline and Fall” at the same hour and place)
A spirit seems to pass,
Formal in pose, but grave and grand withal:
He contemplates a volume stout and tall,
And far lamps fleck him through the thin acacias.
Anon the book is closed,
With “It is finished!”
And at the alley’s end
He turns, and soon on me his glances bend;
And, as from earth, comes speech—small, muted, yet composed.
“How fares the Truth now?—Ill?
—Do pens but slily further her advance?
May one not speed her but in phrase askance?
Do scribes aver the Comic to be Reverend still?
“Still rule those minds on earth
At whom sage Milton’s wormwood words were hurled:
‘Truth like a bastard comes into the world
Never without ill-fame to him who gives her birth’?”
Somewhere afield here something lies In Earth’s oblivious eyeless trust
That moved a poet to prophecies –
A pinch of unseen, unguarded dust The dust of the lark that Shelley heard, And made immortal through times to be; –
Though it only lived like another bird, And knew not its immortality.
Lived its meek life; then, one day, fell – A little ball of feather and bone;
And how it perished, when piped farewell,
And where it wastes, are alike unknown.
Maybe it rests in the loam I view, Maybe it throbs in a myrtle’s green, Maybe it sleeps in the coming hue
Of a grape on the slopes of yon inland scene.
Go find it, faeries, go and find
That tiny pinch of priceless dust,
And bring a casket silver-lined,
And framed of gold that gems encrust; And we will lay it safe therein,
And consecrate it to endless time;
For it inspired a bard to win
Ecstatic heights in thought and rhyme.
(The neighbourhood of Leghorn: March, 1887)
It was as old-fashioned as it was small, and it rested in the lap of an undulating upland adjoining the North Wessex downs. Old as it was, however, the well-shaft was probably the only relic of the local history that remained absolutely unchanged. Many of the thatched and dormered dwelling-houses had been pulled down of late years, and many trees felled on the green. Above all, the original church, hump-backed, wood-turreted, and quaintly hipped, had been taken down, and either cracked up into heaps of road-metal in the lane, or utilized as pig-sty walls, garden seats, guard-stones to fences, and rockeries in the flower-beds of the neighbourhood. In place of it a tall new building of modern Gothic design, unfamiliar to English eyes, had been erected on a new piece of ground by a certain obliterator of historic records who had run down from London and back in a day. The site whereon so long had stood the ancient temple to the Christian divinities was not even recorded on the green and level grass-plot that had immemorially been the churchyard, the obliterated graves being commemorated by eighteen-penny cast iron crosses warranted to last five years.
We live in a time and place in which progress and new overwhelm our desire. We cannot be relish the new. However, such is not the only way to understand time. Consider the above-passage from Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure. The description moves from quaint, to bitter irony, to plain mockery. Try to work out the levels of irony in this paragraph.
The sense of the “modern” is quite similar to the modernization depicted in Lewis’ That Hideous Strength. It is interesting that on the front side of this phase of modernization, the best saw the ugliness and brutality in triumph; but how little can we see it now that we have grown accustomed.
BY THOMAS HARDY
If but some vengeful god would call to me
From up the sky, and laugh: “Thou suffering thing,
Know that thy sorrow is my ecstasy,
That thy love’s loss is my hate’s profiting!”
Then would I bear it, clench myself, and die,
Steeled by the sense of ire unmerited;
Half-eased in that a Powerfuller than I
Had willed and meted me the tears I shed.
But not so. How arrives it joy lies slain,
And why unblooms the best hope ever sown?
—Crass Casualty obstructs the sun and rain,
And dicing Time for gladness casts a moan. . . .
These purblind Doomsters had as readily strown
Blisses about my pilgrimage as pain.