Monday, August 18, 2014

How She Went to Ireland - Thomas Hardy

Dora's gone to Ireland
    Through the sleet and snow;
Promptly she has gone there
    In a ship, although
Why she's gone to Ireland
    Dora does not know.

That was where, yea, Ireland,
    Dora wished to be:
When she felt, in lone times,
    Shoots of misery,
Often there, in Ireland,
    Dora wished to be.

Hence she's gone to Ireland,
    Since she meant to go,
Through the drift and darkness
    Onward labouring, though
That she's gone to Ireland
    Dora does not know.

We have many farewells to say in life, not all happy.  While I wouldn't call this Thomas Hardy poem mournful, it deals with the death of someone (friend or family, beloved or friend, it is unclear and unimportant) known to the narrator.  It's not immediately clear from the first stanza that Dora is dead, and her body is being returned home to Ireland.  It honestly sounds a bit like someone who decided to take a trip on a whim.

By the second stanza, it becomes clear that Dora is being talked about, rather than taking actions herself, and the past tense is used.  Ireland is where she "wished to be" rather than where she wants to be.  "Dora's gone to Ireland" could mean either, but the second stanza begins to inform the reader of Dora's lack of agency.  Whenever she felt "shoots of misery" Dora "wished" for Ireland.  Clearly, Dora was someone who suffered, and wished for Ireland, which I can only assume is her original home, the place where her heart lived.

The third stanza makes it very clear that Dora is no more.  Her journey takes her through "drift and darkness" but Dora does not know it.  In the first stanza, we're told that Dora doesn't know why she's gone to Ireland.  Here, "that she's gone to Ireland Dora does not know."  She cannot know anything, anymore.  Her journey and our perception are now entirely separate.

Hardy does not grieve for Dora.  The poem isn't filled with any sort of grieving language, and that's telling, I think.  I know that often, when I'm faced with an overwhelming emotion, or something painful, I often clam up a bit.  I become clinical, afraid of letting what I feel out.  This is common.  That's the sense I get from this poem.  It's such a painful farewell that it's all the narrator can bear to say, "Dora's gone to Ireland."  The way the poem lets the reader discover Dora's death underscores the sense of loss.  Euphemistic language, saying someone has "gone away" is supposed to soften the truth, but here, it initially deceives, making our realization of death even sadder than if Hardy had just said she was dead to begin with.  The language is simple and clear, and has a sort of everyman's elegance to it.  This isn't a blue-blooded, elegaic rambling, some long-winded ode to a dead friend, but a short and meaningful statement of loss.

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