Poem by Thomas Hardy
, notably set to music for piano and baritone
by Gerald Finzi
in his cycle Earth and Air and Rain
. Don't read the text after the poem if you're the kind of person (like me) that just likes to mull it over and think of what it means to you
. Of course, by all means read it if you (unlike me) have the integrity to form your own opinions having read someone else's.
A star looks down at me,
And says: "Here I and you
Stand each in our degree:
What do you mean to do,—
Mean to do?"
I say: "For all I know,
Wait, and let Time go by,
Till my change come."—"Just so,"
The star says: "So mean I:—
So mean I."
I don't do poetry. I mean, I don't like the whole literary picking-apart thing. I guess it's partly because I'm afraid that once I've done it to a poem or piece of music I won't be able to enjoy it for what it is any more, like if I take apart a watch to see how it works, I'll forget how it all went together and it'll just be left there, hundreds of pieces on the table in front of me.
On the other hand, once you really know how it works, you can put it back together and admire it for the amazing piece of machinery or music or poetry it is - you have explored the device's inner workings, all its cogs and springs, all the tiny instances of cause and effect that used to happen without you knowing and that used to be an unfathomable mystery whose creation - as far as you could see - was down to chance. So maybe I will say something about the poem, but nothing too clinical.
I read Waitng Both and think of lying outside, on softly damp grass, looking up at a summer night sky. 'A star looks down at me' - a star, an incomprehensibly gargantuan broiling mass of equilibria often seen as divine in some or other way, is doing the looking and the asking. It speaks with an unconceited tone - "each in our degree" - and asks a question, the words echoing through the cavernous reaches of space, either as a kind of conversation-starter or perhaps for advice, as though the star was in a similar situation to the poet.
The poet replies that he will take whatever providence (or fate, or life) throws at him - well, he'll have to, won't he - and just stick around "'till my change come" - by which he may mean many things, not least (but not necessarily most) death. I feel the last line is not echoed so much as repeated as an affirmation, making an interesting contrast.
Some may find this quasi-existentialism depressing. I advise these people to listen to any Radiohead album a few times with the lyrics, and they will soon come to terms with, even feel happy about, being insignificant. Of course, nothing but nothing can compare with lying on the ground and looking up at the summer sky, feeling gloriously, majestically inconsequential.