Friday, December 8, 2017

Paying Calls - Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardy was born in Dorset, England, in 1840 and died in 1928. He belonged to the Victorian Era. At first he was known as a novelist but his novel “Jude the Obscure” forced him to retire from writing novels. Hardy was engaged in writing poetry since his early twenties.

Hardy's first volume of poetry was published in 1898. His poems are considered readable, amusing, charming, gloomy and technically varied. Hardy's poems convey a down-to-earth honesty, bitter satire, and though-minded humour.

“Paying Calls”, written by a mature Hardy, is one of his shorter poems. There is a meditative quality throughout the composition. The inevitability of death could be taken as the theme of the poem.

In the 1st stanza a poet is seen walking down a path that ends at a stile, a rough gate. All the hustle and bustle of the world of the living ends on the nearside of the stile. Tranquillity reigns supreme on the other side. The poet cross the threshold and walks about paying calls to some of his friends. His friends seem to occupy a considerable area of the silent tranquil land.

I went by footpath and by the stile
             Beyond where the bustle ends,
Strayed here a mile and there a mile
            And called upon some friends.

In the next stanza the poem gives us an idea about whom the poet is visiting with. Some of the friends have moved into the area long time ago. Hardy has been visiting these friends for many years. However, some of the friends have moved into the area after his previous visit. The idea of having such deep and lasting relationships ignites a warm comforting feeling in the reader.

On certain ones I had not seen
                  For years past did I call,
And on others who had been
                  The oldest friends of all.

In the 3rd stanza, he reports a peculiarity in the behaviour of his friends. It is the midsummer, the longest day of the year. This is the time in which people enjoy life, going for walks, rides, and visiting with friends. In the past Hardy's friends too used to roam about but today they are all at home. Could it be because they were too old to roam about? The term “home” is a euphemism for graves. But the readers are not allowed to comprehend this until much later.

It was the time of midsummer
             When they had used to roam;
But now, though tempting was the air,
             I found them all at home.

In the 4th stanza the poet goes about speaking to his friends, probably about their youthful escapades. But those under the mounds (the newly dead), tombstones and those with trees growing beside them do not respond. Death has robbed them of their power to respond. The poet is in a cemetery paying calls on his dead friends.

I spoke to one and other of them
              By mound and stone and tree
Of things we had done ere days were dim,
                But they spoke not to me.

The writer employs an abab, cdcd, efef, ghgh rhyming scheme. It evokes the sense of walking, pausing once in a while for a brake.

The writer keeps the reader in suspense till the very last line of the final stanza. He does not use words such as cemetery, tomb or tombstone that would have given his
whereabouts away. It is as if he were trying to evade the fact that his friends were dead. Or Hardy being an elderly man does not want to be reminded of his own mortality. It also could mean that after visiting so many times the cemetery has become just another place the poet visited regularly to meet friends.

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