Poetry · reading comprehension

Poetry Time – Easy Line-by-Line Explanation of Thomas Hardy’s Weathers

Weathers

By Thomas Hardy

This is the weather the cuckoo likes,
And so do I;
When showers betumble the chestnut spikes,
And nestlings fly;
And the little brown nightingale bills his best,
And they sit outside at ‘The Traveller’s Rest,’
And maids come forth sprig-muslin drest,
And citizens dream of the south and west,
And so do I.

This is the weather the shepherd shuns,
And so do I;
When beeches drip in browns and duns,
And thresh and ply;
And hill-hid tides throb, throe on throe,
And meadow rivulets overflow,
And drops on gate bars hang in a row,
And rooks in families homeward go,
And so do I.

Hope you liked this as much as I.

If you listen to a reading of this poem by actor Richard Burton, you will love how it sounds. It’s here: http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xgmyt2_thomas-hardy-weathers_creation#.UelQk9JM-So

Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) is just as famous for his poetry as for his novels, such as Tess of the D’Urberville. He writes about difficult relationships (he was married for a second time after his first wife died), sorrow and grief, war, and death. But he also loved nature and delighted in realistic and imaginative descriptions of his native south of England. You can see an example of this in the poem I’ve selected. It’s hard to think of someone who can do it better than him. Hardy is creative and playful in his choice of words, images and rhythms. It’s due to this that this poem and many of his other poems still sound fresh and modern.

There is a small problem, though, because many words that Hardy uses have changed their meaning or aren’t used that much anymore, or not at all.

This may make it somewhat hard to follow for you. So I think what we’ll do in the next of this article, is explain the words line for line. If a certain word is old-fashioned, I will indicate it.

weather vane

Image by Peter Rowley

This is the weather the cuckoo likes,
And so do I; 

The poem is about good and bad weather. The first stanza describes good weather and the second stanza describes unpleasant weather. The pleasant weather is weather the cuckoo likes. The cuckoo is a bird that can be seen in England in the spring and summer.

Line 2: The poet likes summer weather too.

When showers betumble the chestnut spikes,
Betumble is old-fashioned. It means to make tumble = to make fall or roll over (for example acrobats tumble (jump and roll over each other).

This is the time when showers = short periods of rain make the chestnut spikes sway and jump on their branches. Chestnuts are the fruits (called conkers) from the tree with the same name. They are shiny and brown inside a green spiky hull. They start to be ripe in the late summer. However, in this stanza in the poem the chestnut spikes are meant, which bloom in the spring (see picture). Those spikes are also called candles, because of their shape.

chestnut

You can imagine that the little flowers in the candles can easily be rained away (the rain makes them “tumble”), and the spikes start dancing when they’re being pushed to this side and that side.

Showers are pleasant when it’s hot, but too much rain is unpleasant. In the second stanza we’ll have lots of rain.

And nestlings fly;
= Little birds fly out of the nest.

Nestling is a word we wouldn’t use anymore now. It sounds old-fashioned. (Baby birds are chicks.)

And the little brown nightingale bills his best,
This line sounds melodic because of the alliterative b in brown, bills and best.

A nightingale is a small songbird, famous for its beautiful song. “Bills his best” means he presents his best song. This is a word play, as bill can both mean the bird’s beak (hard mouth) and bill in the sense of sell, present.

And they sit outside at ‘The Traveller’s Rest,’
The “they” must be some people. “The Traveller’s Rest” sounds like the name of an inn (a hotel for travellers) or a pub.

And maids come forth sprig-muslin drest,
Maids is an old-fashioned word for girls.

Come forth is old-fashioned for appear.

“Muslin” is an old word for a soft cotton fabric that was used for women’s dresses a lot. Sprig-muslin may refer to the cloth being embroidered or decorated by tree or flower branches. “Drest” is an old-fashioned spelling for dressed.

And citizens dream of the south and west,
And so do I. 

The pleasant season makes people dream of travelling. And the poet feels like going on a trip too.

We’ve gotten to the second stanza.

This is the weather the shepherd shuns,
And so do I; 

Shun means avoid.

Shepherd is the job of guarding the sheep as they walk in the fields.

Naturally, shepherds don’t like their job in the heavy weather of autumn or winter.

And the poet doesn’t like to be outside either.

When beeches drip in browns and duns, 

A beech is a common tree in England. In the autumn, its leaves colour and drop off the branches. “Dun” is a dull brown colour, almost grey. The trees drip because it’s been raining.

And thresh and ply; 

The trees (or its branches and leaves) thresh = beat and throw. They ply = twist. The image is of branches moving violently in the wind.

And hill-hid tides throb, throe on throe, 

The tides = movements of ebb and flood. They are hidden behind hills. Throb means beat like a heart. A throe is a painful contraction, some movement that your muscle would make when it feels pain. So the overall image is of little rivers springing (coming out) from the hills as if they’re being pushed out by a heavy force.

And meadow rivulets overflow, 

A meadow is the grassland on which cows and sheep graze. Rivulets are small rivers or streams of water. Overflow means be filled with too much water; flood.
When rivulets overflow it’s because it has been raining a lot.

And drops on gate bars hang in a row, 

I love this line: if you listen to the rhythm, you’ll hear how musical it is. It’s also an enjoyable image when you see the raindrops hanging in a row from the gate bars = fence. I don’t know whether you’ve ever noticed a row of drops hanging from some iron stick or trellis (the open ironwork in windows, fences, etc.); when the light catches them it’s very pretty.

And rooks in families homeward go,
And so do I. 

A rook is a kind of crow (= a large black bird that can’t sing). They eat seeds from the land, besides insects and worms. If they all think the weather is too bad to stay outside, it means the weather really is terrible!

And the poet goes home in this kind of weather too.

– With thanks to Catherine Pope for her valuable corrections and suggestions to this article.

Learn more about this great poem at the Thomas Hardy Society website.

14 thoughts on “Poetry Time – Easy Line-by-Line Explanation of Thomas Hardy’s Weathers

  1. Excellent explanation of this poem. The Travellers Rest was indeed a public house, on the main road between Dorchester
    and Bridport, which was converted only a few years ago into rooms to let to visiting tourists etc. Hardys` reference to
    south and west is very appropriate, as the location has excellent long distance views westward. To the south it is
    shielded from the sea by a large hill…..hence the “hill hide tides”. As a “local”, I find this poem brings back memories of
    sitting in The Travellers Rest enjoying a good pint of Beer (20-30 years ago).
    Chris – Dorchester Resident.

    Like

  2. This is a really good explanation for the poem Weathers. thanks alot! My students were facing a big difficulty with understanding this poem but now they have understood it, thanks to this summary. 🙂

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s