Come again to the place
Where your presence was as a leaf that skims
Down a drouthy way whose ascent bedims
The bloom on the farer’s face.
Come again, with the feet
That were light on the green as a thistledown ball,
And those mute ministrations to one and to all
Beyond a man’s saying sweet.
Until then the faint scent
Of the bordering flowers swam unheeded away,
And I marked not the charm in the changes of day
As the cloud-colours came and went.
Through the dark corridors
Your walk was so soundless I did not know
Your form from a phantom’s of long ago
Said to pass on the ancient floors,
Till you drew from the shade,
And I saw the large luminous living eyes
Regard me in fixed inquiring-wise
As those of a soul that weighed,
The eternal question of what Life was,
And why we were there, and by whose strange laws
That which mattered most could not be.
This poem was written in 1905 sometime after Hardy’s introduction to Florence Dugdale1 later to become his second wife. First published as ‘After the Visit’2 it was republished as ‘After the Visit (to F.E.D.)’ following the death of Hardy’s first wife’3. It ostensibly reports the details of that first meeting (her eyes, the scent of the plants4) at his Dorchester home Max Gate but the details are reported differently by Michael Millgate in ‘Thomas Hardy, His Career as a Novelist’5 and Thomas Hardy, A Biography Revisited’ and Claire Tomalin in ‘Thomas Hardy, The Time-Torn Man’6. Suffice to say the poem records the heightened senses of a man newly in love, albeit one who appears throughout his adult life to have enjoyed the rush of being newly in love more than the long term give and take.
1 ‘Life behind the gates Newly discovered letters from Thomas Hardy’s wife Florence’ by Angelique Richardson https://www.the-tls.co.uk/articles/newly-discovered-letters-thomas-hardy-wife-florence/
2 The Spectator, 13 August 1910
3 Hardy, Thomas, ‘Satires of Circumstance, Lyrics and Reveries, with Miscellaneous Pieces’, MacMillan & Co., 1914
4 Millgate, Michael, ‘Thomas Hardy, a biography revisited’, Oxford University Press, 2004
5 Millgate, Michael, ‘Thomas Hardy: His Career as a Novelist’, The Bodley Head, 1971
6 Tomalin, Claire, ‘Thomas Hardy, The Time-Torn Man’, Penguin, 2006