GREAT THINGS BY THOMAS HARDY
Cyder: or cider drink taken from Apple Weymouth: town in Dorset, England
Hostelry: an inn, pub or a hotel
Revelry: merrymaking; lively and noisy festivities
Lea: an open area of grassy or arable land
One: God, considered as the One
Jaunts: a short excursion or journey made for pleasure
Impassioned: emotional, exciting
Flings: unrestrained pursuit of one’s emotions or desires
Summary Of Poem
This poem is one of Hardy’s sunnier, springier and simpler poems. Highly nostalgic, the poem speaks about Hardy’s self-indulgent love for things like cider, dance and love, which he labels as “great things”. The poem ‘Great Things’ was included in the collection, Moments of Vision and Miscellaneous Verses, published in 1917. The theme of Moments of Vision, states Hardy, was to “mortify the human sense of self-importance by showing or suggesting, that human beings are of no matter or appreciable value in this nonchalant universe.” But as is often the case, Hardy’s poems within a collection, though often arranged under headings, may divert from their stated purpose.
The young Hardy is footloose and fancy-free, or one who is very much in love with the merry aspects of life. He is one who is not torn apart or depressed by the “travails and teens” of life, but flinging into its mirth and gaiety with wholehearted gusto. A very simple poem, it itemizes and states what the things he considers ‘Great’ are! It gives us a glimpse of Hardy country with its references to Weymouth and Ridgeway. Hardy was a lover of Omar Khayyam and the last book that was read to him just before his death was Edward Fitzgerald’s English translation of it. The hedonistic love that one finds in Rubaiyat comprising wine, women, verse and music is easily observable in ‘Great things’
The poem consists of four stanzas of eight lines each. The refrain at the end of each stanza is a repetition of the opening statement of each, a slight difference being made by appending ‘O’ in front of the refrain. But the last stanza is an exception, where the stanza begins in a question mode and ends with an emphatic ascertainment of the same. So we can state that the poet has made use of incremental repetition, which is considered to be one of the features of the ballad stanza. The first and fifth lines rhyme (e.g.: thing – summoning; things –flings) as do every second alternate lines in each stanza, (e.g.: me – thirstily –hostelry – me; me – silently – tree – me) lending it a euphonic congruence and cohesion. There are a couple of provincialisms that Hardy uses in the poem. Make a note of them.
Discussion Questions and Answers
1) Why does the poet consider ‘sweet cyder’ a great thing?
Answer: The poet states that sweet cider is a great thing to him. As he passes by Weymouth and Ridgeway feeling thirsty, the mistress and the maid who run the hostelry or the inn, invite him to drink cider. A thing that assuages thirst and is sweet and pleasurable in addition is definitely a great thing.
2) What are the elements of dance that makes the poet like it?
Answer: The poet likes to dance because it happens in an atmosphere of mirth, gaiety and romance. In candle-lit ambience, with the most suitable partner, one may settle down to night-long celebrations, and return only when the day starts dawning. These pleasurable moments make dance a great thing to him.
3) What are the romantic components of love that the poet identifies which makes it precious and great?
Answer: Love is beautiful for assignations and stolen moments in the dark. The lover moves across the lawn in darkness waiting for his partner. The lady love flits to her lover silently like the silent bird flying out of the tree. These secret meetings and trysts add to the romance and mystery of love and make it a great thing.
4) What philosophy of life do you perceive in the final stanza of the poem?
Answer: The poet speaks about the inevitable death which would summon all people, one day. So when the final call comes and we are forced to make an exit, all the things that one found joy in when alive, such as joyous travels, impassioned dances and ecstatic love, will become things of the past, but nevertheless would remain precious and great. This philosophy ties it up closely to hedonism, Epicureanism and the concept of ‘carpe diem’ or ‘seize the day’.
Main Highlights of the poem
It is a ‘feel-good’ poem, written in a gay mood. It has the structure, feel and rhythm of a folk song.
There are elements of hedonism, which is the philosophy or doctrine that states that pleasure or happiness is the highest good.
The poet describes the pleasure of drinking sweet cider, partaking in dance and being in love.
These activities have been identified as the sweetest by people in several lands. Omar Khayyam has glorified it.
‘Halavadi’ poets in Hindi Literature have done it. The poets who advocate ‘carpe diem’ or the philosophy of‘seize the day’ have considered it the highest good.
The poet imparts a local flavour to the practice of imbibing cider. Drinking cider and ale is an activity that is indulged in by country people. They visit the local pub or hostelry to drink. They are tended by the mistress of the pub or by the bar-maid. These characters impart a local flavour to the poem. The poet roots this activity in the reality of Dorchester by making references to Weymouth and Ridgeway, two important places in Dorset and Hardy world. The verb ‘spinning down’ instils a spirit of jaunty happiness and conveys a mood of tipsiness.
Dance is the art of passion. Dancing with a partner is one of the happy activities that the people of the west indulge in. Often dances are all-night festivities, where one takes turns dancing with various partners. With fast and slow dances such as a tango or a waltz, mood sets in. Candle-lit dances are romantic affairs. The dancers return home only when the day starts breaking. Hardy very poetically describes the daybreak. Dawn is a party-wrecker who peeps in to spy on the dancers.
Dorset and whereabouts are always a part of Hardy’s world. References to the local places and terrain sprinkle the poem. The reference to ‘lea’ or open tract of land draws our attention to one of the physical features of Dorset.
Love is a great thing because of its secretive and romantic nature. Lovers have a clandestine assignation at night in the garden, which is one of the thrills of being in love. The lover waits for his beloved in the darkness and sees the joyous sight of his lady love flitting across the lawn to where he stands with the swiftness of bird which swoops silently from the tree nearby. The poet beautifully invokes the impatience of waiting and the rapture of the meeting. He also conjures up the atmosphere of darkness and secretiveness in which the impatient lovers meet furtively.
The final stanza brings the reader down to ground realities. Life on earth is transient and death will come inevitably. The poet imagines Death calling out to him when his time is up. But even then, the joy jaunts to drink at pubs, passionate dances and secret meetings of love will always have been great things to him.
In the last stanza, the poem slides from simple present to future perfect, emphasizing the perennial quality of his likes. Whatever happens, these things would always remain great things for him. He wishes that it may be so forever.
The fifth line of each stanza ends in ‘-ing’, (‘summoning’, ‘dawning’, ‘a-wing’) lending it a sensation of continued activity, that his love for these things is something perennially lasting. In the last stanza this line ends in the plural – ‘flings’ – in tune with the summing up that is being done in that stanza.
a) Read the first stanza and indicate the rhyme scheme.
Answer: The rhyme scheme of the poem as per the first stanza is abcbabab
b) What does the presence of the mistress and the maiden in the hostelry convey to the reader?
Answer: The presence of these ladies conveys a local flavour and creates a feel of the English pub atmosphere.
c) Why does Hardy consider dance as a great thing?
Answer: It is a great thing because it is night-long revelry with suitable partners in candle-lit ambience, returning only at daybreak.
d) What is so special about love that it makes it a great thing?
Answer: Love is full of romantic interludes in the darkness, where the lover clandestinely awaits his lady-love in the garden when she flits towards his side silently like a bird.
e) convey to what in essence does the final stanza of the poem say?
Answer: The final stanza posits the question whether the things mentioned in the previous stanza such as cider, dance and love would remain great things to him. He says that when the inevitable Death calls upon him, these things would still have remained great things to him.