Even in Bad Times, Life Goes On

Winslow Homer, "The Veteran in a New Field"

Winslow Homer, “The Veteran in a New Field”


I am currently working on a post applying the ideas from my book (How Beowulf Can Save America) to how we can survive the Trump years. My plan is to publish it tomorrow. In the meantime, here’s a Thomas Hardy poem assuring us that this too shall pass.

The poem was written when World War I was going badly, which serves to put the Trump presidency in perspective. After all, except for how he could hasten the end of humanity by accelerating climate change, Trump won’t be as cataclysmic as “the War to End All Wars.”

“In Time of ‘The Breaking of Nations'” takes its title from Jeremiah (51:20), with the prophet declaring, “Thou art my battle axe and weapons of war: for with thee will I break in pieces the nations, and with thee will I destroy kingdoms.”

As Hardy sees it, war or no war, farmers will continue to plow their fields and lovers will continue to flirt. The burning of couch-grass may echo a battle scene, yet unlike changing dynasties, the burning continues always the same. I am reminded of Carl Sandburg’s own poem about grass and battlefields: “I am the grass/Let me work.”

Trump is undoubtedly a disaster but life goes on. That’s some consolation.

In Time of “The Breaking of Nations”

By Thomas Hardy

Only a man harrowing clods
    In a slow silent walk
With an old horse that stumbles and nods
    Half asleep as they stalk.
Only thin smoke without flame
    From the heaps of couch-grass;
Yet this will go onward the same
    Though Dynasties pass.
Yonder a maid and her wight
    Come whispering by:
War’s annals will cloud into night
    Ere their story die.
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  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

    Please feel free to e-mail me [rrbates (at) smcm (dot) edu]. I would be honored to hear your thoughts and questions about literature.

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