Poetry Review: “The Oxen” by Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardy PoemsIt is clear that ClimbingSky has been going through an identity crisis of late. I am hoping that a return to poetry and poetry reviews may reinvigorate things a bit.

Only time will tell.

Here is a winter/Christmas poem by Thomas Hardy.


by Thomas Hardy

Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.
“Now they are all on their knees,”
An elder said as we sat in a flock
By the embers in hearthside ease.


We pictured the meek mild creatures where
They dwelt in their strawy pen,
Nor did it occur to one of us there
To doubt they were kneeling then.


So fair a fancy few would weave
In these years! Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
“Come; see the oxen kneel,


“In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
Our childhood used to know,”
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so.


Listening with a pencil and my ear, these are the lines I marked:

I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so.
I have not spent much time with Hardy the poet, a quick read 20 years ago or more through his Collected Poems. 


To the modern ear, trained as it has been upon free-verse and Modernism, some of Hardy’s language is just “too versified.” Words like “yonder” and “coomb” are almost grating. And yet these last two lines shine. 


The “problem of rhyme” is one of the great dividing lines in the history of verse in English. For many of us, it is a problem we feel we can never satisfactorily solve… and so we take the cowards way out and avoid it altogether. The first two lines of the final stanza of this poem certainly seem to justify our suspicion.

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