Few writer’s works are as suffused with their native landscape as Thomas Hardy’s novels and poetry, and figuring large in the landscape of his mind, many of Hardy’s settings are inseparable from the places that inspired them, and indeed much of his appeal lies in his abstractions of Wessex, his revival of the ancient Saxon name for the southwestern counties of England which he described as ‘a partly-real, partly dream-country’.
Far from the Madding Crowd (1874) introduced the Wessex area setting (in the last edition of that novel Hardy reminds himself and his readers that it was in the pages of that book that he first made use of the ancient name of Wessex, described as ‘a merely realistic dream country’), and was to be the backdrop for all his major novels. Though his reputation as a formidable writer was well established by the 1880’s, Hardy seems always to have placed poetry above fiction and regarded himself primarily as a poet, and indeed wrote poetry throughout his life. However, for years circumstance dictated that he had to sell what he wrote to earn his living, Hardy forced to write fiction until such times as he was financially free to concentrate on verse, his first collection of poetry not published until 1898.
Yet as well as drawing poetic inspiration from his ‘realistic dream country’ Hardy was also influenced by the changing seasons, and two of his poems conjuring up the imagery of the month of November seem an apt read at this time of year…
At Day-Close In November
The ten hours’ light is abating,
And a late bird flies across,
Where the pines, like waltzers waiting,
Give their black heads a toss.
Beech leaves, that yellow the noon-time,
Float past like specks in the eye;
I set every tree in my June time,
And now they obscure the sky.
And the children who ramble through here
Conceive that there never has been
A time when no tall trees grew here,
A time when none will be seen.
A Night In November
I marked when the weather changed,
And the panes began to quake,
And the winds rose up and ranged,
That night, lying half-awake.
Dead leaves blew into my room,
And alighted upon my bed,
And a tree declared to the gloom
Its sorrow that they were shed.
One leaf of them touched my hand,
And I thought that it was you
There stood as you used to stand,
And saying at last you knew!