Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Jarrell and Jude

Being a bit poorly yesterday, I spent half the day snoozing on the sofa. It was a reduced version of that strange experience of being (trivially) ill in childhood which Randall Jarrell writes about in his poem 'A Sick Child'. It's partly to do with enforced idleness, in which all you can do is daydream; partly to do with needing to sleep but not necessarily being tired, so that you drift in and out of a sleep in which your dreams are unusually pliable; and partly perhaps to do with the illness itself and the way it alters your state of mind. Here's the first stanza:

The postman comes when I am still in bed.
"Postman, what do you have for me today?"
I say to him. (But really I'm in bed.)
Then he says - what shall I have him say?

The poem is a cute picture of a certain sort of nostalgia - nostalgia for what is not the case. It's impressive how Jarrell can charge a quite straightforward poem about a specific situation with such depths of both joy and sadness:

If I can think of it, it isn't what I want.
I want . . . I want a ship from some near star
To land in the yard, and beings to come out
And think to me: "So this is where you are!

Come." Except that they won't do,
I thought of them. . . .

The other half of the day was spent reading Hardy, a thing I haven't done for years. In the meantime I had come rather under the spell of the Hardy-naysayers (who, by the law of double negatives, are presumably actually yeasayers). So I'm pleasantly rebuked by the wit and - yes - modernity of the writing. Everyone goes on about how bleak and pessimistic Hardy's plots are; but they forget to mention how much pleasure he gets out of them.


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