God’s Education – Thomas Hardy – Comments

God’s Education

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!”

Thomas Hardy

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.

Thomas Hardy on Wikipedia.

 

In Church – Thomas Hardy – Analysis

In Church

“And now to God the Father”, he ends,
And his voice thrills up to the topmost tiles:
Each listener chokes as he bows and bends,
And emotion pervades the crowded aisles.
Then the preacher glides to the vestry-door,
And shuts it, and thinks he is seen no more.

The door swings softly ajar meanwhile,
And a pupil of his in the Bible class,
Who adores him as one without gloss or guile,
Sees her idol stand with a satisfied smile
And re-enact at the vestry-glass
Each pulpit gesture in deft dumb-show
That had moved the congregation so.

Thomas Hardy (1840 – 1828)

Thomas Hardy is known more as a novelist than a poet. Here is a poem which is a straight forward depiction of a church incident and quite typical of the way characters change face in his books. It could also be said that it is typical of his religious sentiments. Although somewhat disillusioned with religion in his youth he regularly attended his local church, read lessons, and had great respect for tradition.

S1 – The preacher has wooed a packed church with a brilliant sermon. It’s as though the congregation has bowed to his words rather than to God. The first line states the ending words of his performance – “And now to God the Father”, he ends. And after gliding to the vestry-door shuts the door on his satisfying achievement thinking he has his own private space to be himself – and thinks he is seen no more.

S2 – It takes a child to see a completely different preacher. To be disillusioned by the confronting vanity of a person who she adores – as one without gloss or guile. A preacher who a moment ago moved the congregation in dramatic fashion is now moving this young student in quite a different way. The child is left dumb and betrayed.

The poem makes no judgement. The reader is left to put interpretation and consider the nature of the two players. Reflecting perhaps how people and children in particular, become disillusioned when suddenly seeing the unexpected negative nature in a person. If it had been an older person viewing the vanity it might have been more acceptable and brushed off with a laugh – but for this child a different matter.

It is perhaps typical of Hardy’s religious sentiments for the church to give no consolation and for the church to play on emotions and be there for the benefit of itself. And of course quite poetic for a child to see through to what the church is really like – for the preacher to be brought down to earth with quite a thud.

Here is a link to Stinsford Church where Hardy worshiped.