Order of the Cynthian Palm

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TO LIFE by THOMAS HARDY

O life with the sad seared face,
I weary of seeing thee,
And thy draggled cloak, and thy hobbling pace,
And thy too-forced pleasantry!

I know what thou would'st tell
Of Death, Time, Destiny -
I have known it long, and know, too, well
What it all means for me.

But canst thou not array
Thyself in rare disguise,
And feign like truth, for one mad day,
That Earth is Paradise?

I'll tune me to the mood,
And mumm with thee till eve;
And maybe what as interlude
I feign, I shall believe!

Thomas Hardy (1840–1928) is a very well-known poet and novelist. The novels, including Far from the Madding Crowd and Tess of the D'Urbervilles, have been repeatedly made into films, and his poetry has been set to music, most notably by the British composer, Gerald Finzi (1901–1956). (His son Christopher, b. 1934, known as 'Kiffer' Finzi, is a major character in the film Hilary and Jackie.)

Despite his extensive number of Hardy settings, it does not appear that Finzi set 'To Life.' This very short and, typically, pessimistic poem is an invocation to life in which the poet, realizing its basically tragic and ephemeral characteristics, asks it to pretend, 'for one mad day,' that 'earth is Paradise.' And in so pretending, he hopes that if he does, he will believe it to be true! (The rather odd word 'mumm' means 'to mask,' in the sense of a masquerade.)

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