In five-score summers! All new eyes,
New minds, new modes, new fools, new wise;
New woes to weep, new joys to prize;
With nothing left of me and you
In that live century’s vivid view
Beyond a pinch of dust or two;
A century which, if not sublime,
Will show, I doubt not, at its prime,
A scope above this blinkered time.
—Yet what to me how far above?
For I would only ask thereof
That thy worm should be my worm, Love!
First written in 1867, '1967' is quite likely to be one of Thomas Hardy's earliest poems. At the date of writing, Hardy would have been 27 years old – still very much a young man, as far as writing and poetry are concerned, and with a young man's sensibilities.
There are really two interwoven themes evident in this poem. The first concerns a look forward to the future. It has the feel of idle speculation on what the future may hold – the ways in which it may be different, and the ways it is likely to remain the same. The second is a reflection on the finality of death – and, perhaps, on the fear of being forgotten. Regarding the first theme, the concern for the future, Hardy displays what could be taken as a sort of cautious optimism. Setting his sights a hundred years from the date of writing, to the year 1967, Hardy expressed his belief that the constant progress of civilization will continue unabated. Hardy imagines a world filled with "[a]ll new eyes," and one filled with "[n]ew woes to weep, new joys to prize." To Hardy, a century's worth of progress will carry human civilization to a point where, even if still not quite perfect, they will still possess "[a] scope beyond this blinkered time."
Of course, as is made clear by the second thread, neither Hardy or anyone else alive at the point of writing, will be there to see it. By that point, there will be nothing left of Hardy "[b]eyond a pinch of dust or two." That same century which will see civilization as a whole continue to thrive and prosper will also see the end of Hardy, himself, and everything that he loves. While Hardy is able to imagine a better world in a hundred years time there is also an element of regret, yet ultimately acceptance, of the fact that Hardy himself will never get to see it.
When taken together, the two separate threads of this poem come to form something of an odd contrast. An essentially optimistic view of the world as a whole, which will continue much as it always has, is weighed against an element of clear personal pessimism, that Hardy himself will eventually be all but forgotten. Looking forward to a bright and exciting future, one with "[a] scope above this blinkered time," the poet come only see himself as, essentially, food for the worms. The one and only element of hope that he is willing to allow himself rests on a particularly morbid image, "[t]hat thy worm should be my worm" – or, that Hardy and his love will, at least, be buried together, becoming food for the same worms. The sense created by the contrast of these two threads is that, when weighed against the world as a whole, an individual life has little real value. Civilization will continue on and progress will be made and new life will replace the old, but for the individual, there will ultimately be nothing left "[b]eyond a pinch of dust or two."
© 2014 Dallas Matier
Robert Levine from Brookline, Massachusetts on October 26, 2018:
Your insight about the contrast between optimism and pessimism in the poem is astute.
But the emphasis on newness in the first stanza and the line "A scope above this blinkered time" means that life will not continue "much as it always has," as you write in your final paragraph.