Thomas Hardy has always tended to be better known for his novels than for his poems, but among the hundreds of poems he wrote on a wide range of subjects, there are some very memorable ones. This has always been one of my favourites:
Here is the ancient floor,
Footworn and hollowed and thin,
Here was the former door
Where the dead feet walked in.
She sat here in her chair,
Smiling into the fire;
He who played stood there,
Bowing it higher and higher.
Childlike, I danced in a dream;
Blessings emblazoned that day;
Everything glowed with a gleam;
Yet we were looking away!
Hardy here is describing a scene from his childhood: it’s a family occasion with his father playing his violin as the young Thomas dances and twirls and his mother looks on smiling. The last two lines are the most poignant since they carry the message that this family time was a very precious moment but, sadly, they had not appreciated this at the time.
In later life, especially after the death of his first wife, Hardy became almost obsessed by the past, forever trying to recapture specific events and feelings which were deeply felt at the time yet over so quickly. The keenness and sharp emotion of memory, yet its lack of tangibility and our inability to relive memorable events were issues that tormented Hardy -and I know just how he feels. Even now, despite all our instant access to cameras and recording equipment, we cannot reproduce our most precious times with any degree of authenticity. Looking at the photos may stir a few feelings but, ultimately, this is just not the same as living through the actual occasion.
I would go so far as to say that this poem has actually changed my outlook on life. These days, when I’m enjoying special moments with family or friends, those last two lines often come into my mind. They remind me that I want to ensure I appreciate even the most ordinary of occasions with my loved ones. Life is so fleeting; I don’t want to be “looking away” when things “glow with a gleam”.