At Castle Boterel
As I drive to the junction of lane and highway,
And the drizzle bedrenches the waggonette,
I look behind at the fading byway,
And see on its slope, now glistening wet,
Myself and a girlish form benighted
In dry March weather. We climb the road
Beside a chaise. We had just alighted
To ease the sturdy pony's load
When he sighed and slowed.
What we did as we climbed, and what we talked of
Matters not much, nor to what it led,--
Something that life will not be balked of
Without rude reason till hope is dead,
And feeling fled.
It filled but a minute. But was there ever
A time of such quality, since or before,
In that hill's story? To one mind never,
Though it has been climbed, foot-swift, foot-sore
By thousands more.
Primaeval rocks form the road's steep border,
And much have they faced there, first and last,
Of the transitory in Earth's long order;
But what they record in colour and cast
Is--that we two passed.
And to me, though Time's unflinching rigour,
In mindless rote, has ruled from sight
The substance now, one phantom figure
Remains on the slope, as when that night
Saw us alight.
I look and see it there, shrinking, shrinking,
I look back at it amid the rain
For the very last time; for my sand is sinking,
And I shall traverse old love's domain
In March of 1913, Thomas Hardy took a trip to Cornwall and visited the places he'd been with his first wife, Emma, when they were young. Emma had died the previous year, and while the marriage had been difficult, it would seem there had been at least some good times in it. (Whatever it was that filled but a minute...) Castle Boterel (Cornish: Kastel Boterel; English, Boscastle) is a picturesque fishing village on the northern Cornish coast.
This is probably standing in for anything I might say of Shirley Hazzard's The Transit of Venus, which I read recently. The novel takes place among a set that read and quote poetry: Kipling, Yeats, Nicanor Parra, Beaumont and Fletcher, Hardy. Caroline Bell reads the stanza that begins 'Primaeval rocks...' to her husband Adam, and weeps. The novel is pretty great, subtle, with intricate, half-hidden plotting, and I'm probably not up to writing about it. Francis Steegmuller, the novelist and Flaubert scholar, wrote, "No one should have to read The Transit of Venus for the first time." But since he was Shirley Hazzard's husband, he may very well have been the only one who didn't have to.
But how about that Ted Tice? I'm not sure whether that's romantic or excessively heroic torch-carrying.