Thursday, October 16, 2008

Robert Bridges on Nightfall, Etc.

Here is a poem by Robert Bridges I don't remember encountering before. Sometimes when I see a title like "Winter Nightfall" above a poem by a relatively conventional poet, I lower my expectations, as I did this time. I was pleasantly surprised, beginning in line 3, with ". . . nothing tells the place/Of the setting sun." These lines suggested that Bridges was taking a hard look at the scene, a scene in which, presumably because of English mist, fog, clouds, and overall murk, no one can foretell where the sun will set; the murkiness just dims. At any rate, the poem:

Winter Nightfall

by Robert Bridges


THE day begins to droop,—
Its course is done:
But nothing tells the place
Of the setting sun.

The hazy darkness deepens,
And up the lane
You may hear, but cannot see,
The homing wain.

An engine pants and hums
In the farm hard by:
Its lowering smoke is lost
In the lowering sky.

The soaking branches drip,
And all night through
The dropping will not cease
In the avenue.

A tall man there in the house
Must keep his chair:
He knows he will never again
Breathe the spring air:

His heart is worn with work;
He is giddy and sick
If he rise to go as far
As the nearest rick:

He thinks of his morn of life,
His hale, strong years;
And braves as he may the night
Of darkness and tears.


I especially appreciate the subtle combination of a rural and an urban or suburban scene--farm and avenue. For me, the poem also slides easily into its consideration of the old man.

In the neighborhood we lived in previously, a married couple occupied a house across the street, and the woman's father lived with them. He was living with a respiratory disease, and he died not long after we moved there. His son in law told me that the old man believed that as long as he could walk around a bit (including crossing the street to get the mail) and, most importantly, sit in "his" chair, he would be all right; he wouldn't die. One day, of course, he had to be moved from the chair to a bed. I thought of this man when I read Bridges' poem, and of the way almost all of us construct a private calculus, whereby if we do X (keep sitting up in a chair), then Y will continue as it always has.

Bridges now is best know for his friendship with Gerard Manley Hopkins and for his having helped insure that Hopkins' poems got published. In their lifetimes, Bridges was much the better known poet than Hopkins.
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