Robert Bridges is, perhaps, best known for making certain that Gerard Manley Hopkins’s works were published. Bridges himself is a very elegant and feeling poet. I was attracted to his work when I was young because the restrained delicacy of his feelings and expressions taught me that there was a greater dignity in quiet sorrow than in raucous melodrama.
The following poem was one that I read and reread because it helped me, as a young person, come to terms with death:
I never shall love the snow again
Since Maurice died:
With corniced drift it blocked the lane
And sheeted in a desolate plain
The country side.
The trees with silvery rime bedight
Their branches bare.
By day no sun appeared; by night
The hidden moon shed thievish light
In the misty air.
We fed the birds that flew around
In flocks to be fed:
No shelter in holly or brake they found.
The speckled thrush on the frozen ground
Lay frozen and dead.
We skated on stream and pond; we cut
The crinching snow
To Doric temple or Arctic hut;
We laughed and sang at nightfall, shut
By the fireside glow.
Yet grudged we our keen delights before
Maurice should come.
We said, In-door or out-of-door
We shall love life for a month or more,
When he is home.
They brought him home; ’twas two days late
For Christmas day:
Wrapped in white, in solemn state,
A flower in his hand, all still and straight
Our Maurice lay.
And two days ere the year outgave
We laid him low.
The best of us truly were not brave,
When we laid Maurice down in his grave
Under the snow.
This is a funeral poem without excessive pathos and with no bathos. Words like ‘bedight’ and ‘corniced’ and ‘outgave’ add a distance for the contemporary reader; the winter is described as both majestic and treacherous–the dead “speckled thrush” is a reminder of nature’s caprice. The poem conveys the sorrow of loss with brilliant quiet and stoicism and understatement. If all 14 year olds could appreciate and understand such poetry, we would, perhaps, be better educated in the “art of losing”.