Easter with the Thomases

In the second of our Easter Sunday posts we explore a flower-covered car wreck and a rain-sodden graveyard to consider what Easter has meant to two of our grumpiest poets.

I keep returning to the two Thomases – Hardy and R.S. – even though they must be two of the most accomplished miserabilists in British poetry. Grumpy old men inhabiting a bleak old universe. But because they’re both close and interested observers of the natural world, carefully noting its particularities, they can’t help the bleakness being punctuated by the odd positive, even inspiring, sentiment. Nature can do that, mysteriously and sometimes mystically.

In Hardy’s case, the merest mention of wildlife could lift him from gloom. Here’s the future Mrs Hardy recounting a lunch with the author and his first wife:

Hardy said nothing, and did not lift his eyes from the plate; I was hard put to it to manufacture some kind of conversation, and it was a great relief when Mrs. Hardy rose, and left us to our port. Even then Hardy’s silence persisted, till I told him of a bird in our wood whose identity puzzled us; we had discovered at last that it was a corncrake. Hardy brightened at once, the cloud lighted, and we talked, talked of birds and trees, evidently a favourite subject of his, till I left.

Darkling thrushes are evidently no match for the corncrake. Of course, the Reverend Thomas loved his birds too: he once concluded a funeral by vaulting a churchyard wall to go off birdwatching, leaving the mourners by the graveside. As with Hardy, birds feature in the poetry.

Both poets had a prickly concern with religion – R.S. from inside the tent and Hardy from outside, to use Lyndon Johnson’s formulation – so it’s unsurprising they both wrote poetry about Easter, a time when religious themes and the rhythm of the seasons coincide. The world is on the cusp, stutteringly emerging from the cold, the dark receding, flowers blooming, chicks hatching, and the hope of a bright new season in the air. Whether you see this as framed by the religious or not, it’s something to be savoured. Here’s R.S.:


Easter. The grave clothes of winter
are still here, but the sepulchre
is empty. A messenger
from the tomb tells us how a stone has been rolled
from the mind and a tree lightens
the darkness with its blossom.

There are travellers on the roads
who have heard music blown
from a bare bough and a child
tells us how the accident
of last year, a machine stranded
beside the way for lack of
petrol, is covered with flowers.


Hardy, not so much. In the poem below he makes R.S. seem full of springtime joys, which is no mean achievement. However, the rather acid irony he directs at the Christian festival is offset by profound feelings of human fellowship in the face of time’s downpour. Feelings that come to him whilst standing in the rain, in a country churchyard hedged around by yews.

A Drizzling Easter Morning

And he is risen? Well, be it so . . .
And still the pensive lands complain,
And dead men wait as long ago,
As if, much doubting, they would know
What they are ransomed from, before
They pass again their sheltering door.

I stand amid them in the rain,
While blusters vex the yew and vane;
And on the road the weary wain
Plods forward, laden heavily;
And toilers with their aches are fain
For endless rest–though risen is he.


Something for almost everyone there I would guess. In any event, all of us at The Dabbler wish you a very happy Easter.

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7 thoughts on “Easter with the Thomases

  1. finalcurtain@gmail.com'
    April 9, 2012 at 08:49

    Back in the days when TV sets were the size of fridges and had screens the size of place-mats, I had the great good fortune to live in Ireland before it became chromium-plated, and one of many pleasures the country offered was a chance to observe the natural world in all of its glory, and to return also to the spooky hobby I enjoyed as a kid – watching birds. And having spent the last 25 years in what seems to be routinely called ‘the greatest city in the world’, I yearn for those far off days when I could just vault over a dry-stone wall and wander around looking at these amazing creatures, singing, soaring, being kind to their children, and good to each other – and when the weather turns sour, they clear-off somewhere warmer. Could we not learn from this way of living?

  2. Gaw
    April 9, 2012 at 20:27

    I’ve never been one for the bird-watching. I enjoy the countryside more heedlessly, a bit like Fotherington-Thomas.

  3. andrewnixon@blueyonder.co.uk'
    April 10, 2012 at 13:24

    Me too. I like the countryside but I’d struggle to tell the difference between a corncrake and, say, an oak tree.

    I prefer the Hardy of these two… and I like that the future Mrs Hardy refers to him as ‘Hardy’.

  4. johngjobling@googlemail.com'
    April 10, 2012 at 14:47

    There are travellers on the roads
    who have heard music blown
    from a bare bough and a child
    tells us how the accident
    of last year, a machine stranded
    beside the way for lack of
    petrol, is covered with flowers.

    How on earth did he know? was that him in a Golf behind us yesterday afternoon, stuck in the 15 mile jam on the A2 near Utrecht, the music of the bough accompanied by a chorus of Dutch horns.

    Corncrakes, Brit, come in a box, oak trees come in a pot, from the garden centre.

  5. Gaw
    April 10, 2012 at 16:34

    Given the interest in the corncrake demonstrated here I thought people might be interested in this quote from a 2005 review of a nature book (the follow-up to which we’re trying to get as a Dabbler Book Club selection):

    The great nature writer WH Hudson described how the last pair of corncrakes left London. They bred for three years in the same spot, then a workman accidentally destroyed their nest “and the birds vanished, to return no more”. That was in the 1890s, and since then, field by field, suburb by suburb, corncrakes have been driven out of Britain.

    Today, you’ll only find them at the extremities. A thousand miles from London, a few dozen pairs nest in the unkempt grasses of Coll, an island in the Hebrides. In “Crex-Crex”, one of the 11 essays in her new book, Kathleen Jamie describes a visit to Coll. She accompanies an RSPB warden around the island, interrogates an English birdwatcher and wanders on the beach with her binoculars. Finally, driving, she sees a corncrake for herself, darting under the wheels of her car.

    Jamie transforms her search for this “medium-sized brown bird” into a meditation on conservation. Moving from John Clare to Tom Waits, Constable’s Haywain to Mrs Beeton’s recipe for roast corncrake (served with a nice bread sauce), she pursues a bird that used to be ubiquitous. A century ago, we would all have recognised the corncrake’s cry, but mechanisation has destroyed its environment. “I feel robbed,” writes Jamie, “denied one of the sounds of summer, which all our forebears would have known, that irksome little crex-crex.”

    From here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2005/jul/23/featuresreviews.guardianreview5

  6. johngjobling@googlemail.com'
    April 10, 2012 at 22:56

    They seem remarkably like the working class, the last remnants of them having been spotted huddled in a black midden at Lochinver, steel rulers rusting and union membership cards in tatters, pitifully mewing “gisajob”

  7. zmkc@ymail.com'
    April 12, 2012 at 01:16

    Beautiful post.

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