Ever have a moment that is etched on to your consciousness? That stinging moment where you knew that you should have known better, where your subconscious was singing, “better get out now!” but you didn’t listen. It’s usually a day that haunts you and lives branded in your mind as a life lesson, a regret that you thought you’d never earn, but you should have known better.
Those days, they seem ordinary to any outside viewer, a walk by a pond on a cold winter’s day, but for you they are mythic, a symbol of some part of you that was taken away, or something bitter that was added. You are a different you after that day. It’s like September 11th where America learned the Superman was only a comic book character and 2008 when we learned we are not such decent people after all.
In this poem, Thomas Hardy learns that in love there are no guarantees. Years of time together don’t necessarily mean you’ll learn anything about one another, “your eyes on me were as eyes that rove/Over tedious riddles of years ago…” It must have felt apropos that it all ended on a winter day, a dead day where everything is white and gray like the skin of a corpse (his lovers lips even turn white, “the smile on your mouth the deadest thing/alive enough to have strength to die”). The tree near them is Ash, trees that turn white when they grow old, and just name connotes something long ago burnt away – the fire that burns the hottest…
At the end of the poem, he uses the tree, the sun that blends with the white winter sky, and his lovers face as a symbol for how his heart became bent that day. It has been wrung by them and re-shaped his spirit. Perhaps he too is now painted with neutral tones, all of the youthful color faded away.
by Thomas Hardy
We stood by a pond that winter day,
And the sun was white, as though chidden of God,
And a few leaves lay on the starving sod;
– They had fallen from an ash, and were gray.
Your eyes on me were as eyes that rove
Over tedious riddles of years ago;
And some words played between us to and fro
On which lost the more by our love.
The smile on your mouth was the deadest thing
Alive enough to have strength to die;
And a grin of bitterness swept thereby
Like an ominous bird a-wing….
Since then, keen lessons that love deceives,
And wrings with wrong, have shaped to me
Your face, and the God-curst sun, and a tree,
And a pond edged with grayish leaves.