Favourite Forever: Thomas Hardy & Christina Rossetti

Wessex Heights


There are some heights in Wessex, shaped as if by a kindly hand
For thinking, dreaming, dying on, and at crises when I stand,
Say, on Ingpen Beacon eastward, or on Wylls-Neck westwardly,
I seem where I was before my birth, and after death may be.
In the lowlands I have no comrade, not even the lone man’s friend –
Her who suffereth long and is kind; accepts what he is too weak to mend:
Down there they are dubious and askance; there nobody thinks as I,
But mind-chains do not clank where one’s next neighbour is the sky.
In the towns I am tracked by phantoms having weird detective ways –
Shadows of beings who fellowed with myself of earlier days:
They hang about at places, and they say harsh heavy things –
Men with a frigid sneer, and women with tart disparagings.
Down there I seem to be false to myself, my simple self that was,
And is not now, and I see him watching, wondering what crass cause
Can have merged him into such a strange continuator as this,
Who yet has something in common with himself, my chrysalis.
I cannot go to the great grey Plain; there’s a figure against the moon,
Nobody sees it but I, and it makes my breast beat out of tune;
I cannot go to the tall-spired town, being barred by the forms now passed
For everybody but me, in whose long vision they stand there fast.
There’s a ghost at Yell’ham Bottom chiding loud at the fall of the night,
There’s a ghost in Froom-side Vale, thin lipped and vague, in a shroud of white,
There is one in the railway-train whenever I do not want it near,
I see its profile against the pane, saying what I would not hear.
As for one rare fair woman, I am now but a thought of hers,
I enter her mind and another thought succeeds me that she prefers;
Yet my love for her in its fulness she herself even did not know;
Well, time cures hearts of tenderness, and now I can let her go.
So I am found on Ingpen Beacon, or on Wylls-Neck to the west,
Or else on homely Bulbarrow, or little Pilsdon Crest,
Where men have never cared to haunt, nor women have walked with me,
And ghosts then keep their distance; and I know some liberty.

Thomas Hardy

***

The Lambs of Grasmere

The upland flocks grew starved and thinned;
Their shepherds scarce could feed the lambs
Whose milkless mothers butted them,
Or who were orphaned of their dams.
The lambs athirst for mother’s milk
Filled all the place with piteous sounds:
Their mothers’ bones made white for miles
The pastureless wet pasture grounds.
Day after day, night after night,
From lamb to lamb the shepherds went,
With teapots for the bleating mouths
Instead of nature’s nourishment.
The little shivering gaping things
Soon knew the step that brought them aid,
And fondled the protecting hand,
And rubbed it with a woolly head.
Then, as the days waxed on to weeks,
It was a pretty sight to see
These lambs with frisky heads and tails
Skipping and leaping on the lea,
Bleating in tender, trustful tones,
Resting on rocky crag or mound.
And following the beloved feet
That once had sought for them and found.
These very shepherds of their flocks,
These loving lambs so meek to please,
Are worthy of recording words
And honour in their due degrees:
So I might live a hundred years,
And roam from strand to foreign strand,
Yet not forget this flooded spring
And scarce-saved lambs of Westmoreland.
Christina Rossetti