That haunted in her eye:
I saw him steal the light away
It went so gently none could say
More than that it was there one day
And missing by-and-by.
I watched her longer, and he stole
Her lily tincts and rose;
All her young sprightliness of soul
Next fell beneath his cold control,
And disappeared like those.
I asked: “Why do you serve her so?
Do you, for some glad day,
Hoard these her sweets–?” He said, “O no,
They charm not me; I bid Time throw
Them carelessly away.”
Said I: “We call that cruelty –
We, your poor mortal kind.”
He mused. “The thought is new to me.
Forsooth, though I men’s master be,
Theirs is the teaching mind!”
This is a poem about grief combined with contemplating the here-after. There are four five line stanzas with questions and responses in the last two. The rhyming varies – ‘abbba, cdccd, ebeeb, fgffg’.
God and time steal beauty, people and life and Hardy regards God as a thief –‘I saw him steal the light away’. And Hardy has lost someone precious and not only that to someone that does not care! – ‘fell beneath his cold control’ and in response to his question ‘why do you serve her so’ there is a throw-away response to the beauty of life from an uncaring God – ‘They charm not me; I bid Time throw / Them carelessly away’.
These words are words of grief. Hardy has loved and known this person intimately and the thought that this person will disappear forgotten into the nothingness of time is just not his way of doing things! He instructs God accordingly reversing the teacher-role. Hardy is not the first person to argue with God and this is very healthy in that he uses his God-given intellect in such a way as to engender his own spiritual growth.
For those that do believe in a here-after. What form does it take? What form would you like it to take? I think an endless nothing is a sad reflection; surely we can use our imagination for a better outcome! A bit pertinent to tell God what to do but Thomas Hardy is quite happy to give education to our creator! And according to the last line of the last stanza God is appreciative of the advice – ‘theirs is the teaching mind!’
There are of course alternative positive poetic responses on the nature of God compared to those given by a grief stricken TH.