04 April 2012

National Poetry Month: 4

For today, The Ruined Maid by Thomas Hardy (1840 - 1928; this poem is from 1866):

The Ruined Maid

"O 'Melia, my dear, this does everything crown!
Who could have supposed I should meet you in Town?
And whence such fair garments, such prosperi-ty?" –
"O didn't you know I'd been ruined?" said she.

– "You left us in tatters, without shoes or socks,
Tired of digging potatoes, and spudding up docks;
And now you've gay bracelets and bright feathers three!" –
"Yes: that's how we dress when we're ruined," said she.

– "At home in the barton you said 'thee' and 'thou,'
And 'thik oon,' and 'theas oon,' and 't'other'; but now
Your talking quite fits 'ee for high compa-ny!" –
"Some polish is gained with one's ruin," said she.

– "Your hands were like paws then, your face blue and bleak,
But now I'm bewitched by your delicate cheek,
And your little gloves fit as on any la-dy!' –
"We never do work when we're ruined," said she.

– "You used to call home-life a hag-ridden dream,
And you'd sigh, and you'd sock; but at present you seem
To know not of megrims or melancho-ly!"–
"True. One's pretty lively when ruined," said she.

– "I wish I had feathers, a fine sweeping gown,
And a delicate face, and could strut about Town!" –
"My dear – a raw country girl, such as you be,
Cannot quite expect that. You ain't ruined," said she.

Oh, you can admit it: if you know something about English literature but not this particular poem, when you saw the date, and the author's name, and the title, you were probably not expecting this caustic blast of hilarity. Hardy is one of those writers (like George Eliot or Henry James) so well known for psychological acuity or deep fatalistic thought that it's always a surprise to realize how funny they are. I love the drawn out syllable ending the third line of each stanza, which to me makes it sound like some country folk ballad. I also like the superior tone and not-quite-good-enough grammar of the ruined maid. You can see why Hardy was also a great novelist, and why his novels were often condemned for their immoral (that is to say, realistic) outlook on life.


Sibyl said...

Ah, Hardy. One of Jasper Fforde's finest japes in the Thursday Next novels (and if you haven't you ought) is that Hardy's novels were the funniest in the English language before a Fforde plot-point leached all the humor out.

Patrick J. Vaz said...

OK, I haven't, and I guess I ought to!