Thomas Hardy has always tended to be better known for his novels than for his poems, but among the hundreds of poems he wrote on a wide range of subjects, there are some very memorable ones. This has always been one of my favourites:
Here is the ancient floor,
Footworn and hollowed and thin,
Here was the former door
Where the dead feet walked in.
She sat here in her chair,
Smiling into the fire;
He who played stood there,
Bowing it higher and higher.
Childlike, I danced in a dream;
Blessings emblazoned that day;
Everything glowed with a gleam;
Yet we were looking away!
Hardy here is describing a scene from his childhood: it’s a family occasion with his father playing his violin as the young Thomas dances and twirls and his mother looks on smiling. The last two lines are the most poignant since they carry the message that this family time was a very precious moment but, sadly, they had not appreciated this at the time.
I can’t believe we’re already in November. But a quick look through the window verifies that we are: the misty, murky greyness which blankets everything into damp anonymity and uncertainty is so typical of this month.
It always reminds me of a clever old poem I first encountered at school. When I was a teacher myself I often used it with classes, asking the kids to write their own version. When the weather was like this and the sun refused to break through, they were inspired to write some marvellous verse!
by Thomas Hood (1799-1845)
No sun–no moon!
No morn–no noon!
No dawn–no dusk–no proper time of day–
No sky–no earthly view–
No distance looking blue–
No road–no street–
No “t’other side the way”–
No end to any Row–
No indications where the Crescents go–
No top to any steeple–
No recognitions of familiar people–
No courtesies for showing ’em–
No knowing ’em!
No mail–no post–
No news from any foreign coast–
No park–no ring–no afternoon gentility–
No company–no nobility–
No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member–
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds,
When you want to clean the floors, do you use a vacuum cleaner or a hoover? Do you wipe your nose on a kleenex or a tissue? And when you’re walking through mud, would you go for waterproof rubber boots or wellingtons? In other words, do you use the generic or general name for the object, or do you use its eponym?
An eponym is a word which is derived from a personal name. In the first two examples above, “Hoover” and “Kleenex” are manufacturers of the objects whose names have become so well-known that the manufacturer’s name has become synonymous with the name of the product. In the third example, although many people assume that the Duke of Wellington invented this type of waterproof boot, it was probably simply named in honour of him because he was a national hero at the time the boots were first manufactured.
Now the better weather’s here, there should hopefully be some time for at least most of us to take a break and relax a little. As spring is gathering momentum, it’s a good time to get outdoors and – well – do nothing. Just have a look and enjoy the natural world around you.
Technically, this poem by W.H. Davies may not be the greatest, but I’ve always appreciated the sentiment expressed in it and the poem is certainly eminently memorable and quotable. Over the years, the opening two lines have often popped into my head at times when I know I need to slow down and get some perspective in my busy life.
It would be good to think that the last words you utter in your life would be something profound. I’ve even considered writing mine in advance and carrying them round with me – just in case of emergency. The trouble is, I haven’t yet decided what my last words should be.Perhaps I’ll pinch William Hazlitt’s last words: “Well, I’ve had a happy life” or Harold Macmillan’s: “I think I’ll go to sleep now.” They’ll do if I don’t think of anything better in the meantime.
Here are some last words said by famous people. See whether you know who said them – then try them out on your friends and family:
1. “Let not poor Nelly starve.”
2. “I’ve never felt better.”
3. “How is the Empire?”
4. “Et tu, Brute?”
5. “Does nobody understand?”
6. “Kiss me, Hardy.”
7. “I am just going outside and I may be some time.”
8. “Die, my dear doctor! That’s the last thing I shall do.”
9. “I have a terrific headache.”
10. “Go away. I’m all right.” (He wasn’t….)
11. “Either that wallpaper goes, or I do.”
12. “Is it my birthday or am I dying?”
Answers can be found here
And here are a few people whose last words were really quite.. well. ordinary:
“Wait a minute.” (Pope Alexander VI)
“No.” (Alexander Graham Bell)
“Ah, that tastes nice. Thank you.” (Johannes Brahms)
“Hello.” (Graham Chapman)
“Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow.” (Steve Jobs.)
Do you have any other good examples of famous last words?
First of all, why bother to read Dickens at all?
Because he was one of the greatest novelists who ever lived. His novels feature really ingenious plotting; a vast range of exceptionally colourful and memorable characters of all kinds – many of them eccentric and humorous (although there are some great villains too); interesting insights into life and human nature; many funny episodes; a breath-taking prose style; memorable expressions and witty comments.
Traditionally, Dickens is not seen as an easy read, and in some ways he isn’t. Unfortunately, though, many people have been introduced to Dickens at school when they were too young to understand his prose style and this has had the effect of turning them off Dickens for life. Because children are quite familiar with simplified versions of stories such as Oliver Twist, A Christmas Carol and Great Expectations, there is a mistaken perception that these books were written for children, but they remain very much adult novels. The original full-length versions are far too dificult for children yet, if you return to Dickens’s books as an adult, you’ll find them much more readable than they were when you were fourteen!
Nevertheless, it’s worth bearing in mind that in the twenty-first century we’re saturated with instant messages and easy readability, but Dickens does have to be worked at a bit – not something we’re used to. But if you’ve never managed to enjoy Dickens before but you’re prepared to make the effort now, he more than repays the toil you put in .
In days gone by, people loved wise old sayings. It seemed like a point was never made simply and directly if it could be dressed up in an illustrative metaphor or catchy phrase.
My mother and her mother could have whole conversations in proverbs. It would go something like this:
Mum: Old Arthur’s sailing close to the wind.
Gran: Yes, he’ll need to look before he leaps.
Mum: But he’d better strike while the iron’s hot.
Gran: Well, fortune rewards the brave. It’s an ill wind, after all.
Mum: Hm,but you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
Gran: Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Though there’s many a slip!
Back in the nineteen-seventies many people had a kind of little chart on the wall with some very popular words written on it. At the bottom of the words was a note saying that this prose poem had been found in a Baltimore church in 1692. It transpires that this was a lie.
The “Desiderata”, as the poem was titled, was actually written in about 1920 by American poet Max Ehrmann. In 1971 Les Crane’s recording of it resulted in a number 6 hit in the UK pop music charts. This uneasy mix of pious speaking with a background of cheesy singing is quite painful to listen to these days, but I’m quite fond of the version on the film above.
The words aren’t particularly religious, but they are quietly comforting and inspiring in a common sense kind of way. Fractions of the words are eminently quotable and memorable. For that reason, I decided to post the poem here: