September 20, 2017
New Year's Poetry: Thomas Hardy, Sylvia PlathThis edition of New Year's Eve poetry features two poems, Thomas Hardy's "New Year's Eve" and Sylvia Plath's "New Year on Dartmoor." Beneath the difference in style and perspective -- Hardy's poem was written in 1906, when he was approaching seventy; Plath's is believed to have been written at the end of 1961, some thirteen months before her suicide at the age of thirty -- is the same pause over the mysteriousness of the moment.
Hardy's "New Year's Eve" was first published in his 1909 collection, Time's Laughingstocks. This is the only introduction the poem needs, though it is worth remembering that for all Hardy's bleakness and "Wessex fatalism" his fiddles are in the Dorset County Museum:
"In grey, green, white, and brown;
I have strewn the leaf upon the sod,
Sealed up the worm within the clod,
And let the last sun down."
"And what's the good of it?" I said.
"What reasons made you call
From formless void this earth we tread,
When nine-and-ninety can be read
Why nought should be at all?
"Yea, Sire; why shaped you us, 'who in
This tabernacle groan' -
If ever a joy be found herein,
Such joy no man had wished to win
If he had never known!"
Then he: "My labours -- logicless --
You may explain; not I:
Sense-sealed I have wrought, without a guess
That I evolved a Consciousness
To ask for reasons why.
"Strange that ephemeral creatures who
By my own ordering are,
Should see the shortness of my view,
Use ethic tests I never knew,
Or made provision for!"
He sank to raptness as of yore,
And opening New Year's Day
Wove it by rote as theretofore,
And went on working evermore
In his unweeting way.
The "unweeting" (unwitting or unknowing) in "New Year on Dartmoor" was occasioned by an ice storm. Plath, nearly full-term with her second child, was out for a walk with her one-and-a-half-year-old daughter near their home in North Tawton, on the north edge of the moor:
Obstacle glass-wrapped and peculiar,
Glinting and clinking in a saint's falsetto. Only you
Don't know what to make of the sudden slippiness,
The blind, white, awful, inaccessible slant.
There's no getting up it by the words you know.
No getting up by elephant or wheel or shoe.
We have only come to look. You are too new
To want the world in a glass hat.
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