COMMENT CLOSELY ONTHE POEM, DISCUSSING WAYS IT PRESENTS ROMANCE.
A CHURCH ROMANCE
She turned in the high pew, until her sight 1
Swept the west gallery, and caught its row
Of music-men with viol, book, and bow
Against the sinking sad tower-window light.
She turned again; and in her pride’s despite 5
One strenuous viol’s inspirer seemed to throw
A message from his string to her below,
Which said: ‘I claim thee as my own forthright!’
Thus their hearts’ bond began, in due time signed.
And long years thence, when Age had scared Romance, 1
At some old attitude of his or glance
That gallery-scene would break upon her mind,
With him as minstrel, ardent, young, and trim,
Bowing ‘New Sabbath’ or ‘Mount Ephraim’.
The poem ‘’A Church Romance’’ is one of such Hardy poems that questions the social convention, especially the religious belief of the conventional Victorian Age. The setting is a church where the two lovers disregard the sanctity that such a setting should command to engage in flirtatious dalliance.
From the title of the poem, it is obvious that Hardy wants to present a contradictory message of an activity as frivolous as romance taking place against the background of the serious religious setting of a church. In consonance with Hardy’s stance, as a poet with some elements of romanticism in his writing, one could see an evidence of protest against the religious Puritanism of the Victorian age. Though against a background of something as serious as a church, Hardy nevertheless is able to convey romance using appropriate devices.
It is interesting to note that the poem opens with the female persona as she takes the initiative of scanning the pew with all deliberateness, looking for a particular person. Her audacity is strange considering the norm of women repression of the Victorian Age. The staid setting of the church is stressed here, against the liveliness of the music playing.
In the second stanza, the female-persona takes the initiative once again by making another effort to achieve her aim of finding love. It is not however a one-way affair, as the male –persona lover reciprocates with his music, which is erroneously perceived as serving a religious purpose to the larger congregation. The concluding stanza takes on a reminiscing tone as it gives the culmination of the church affair which eventually ends in a lasting union, as it is in due time signed. However as it with all human affairs, the relationship begins to suffer decay. However, because of the lasting memory of youthfulness which the lady has in her consciousness, she seems to have discovered a way of keeping the ageing love affair ever fresh.
By making the language quite dramatic, a strong sense of romance is conveyed. The deliberateness of the lady-persona’s action as she turned and swept the west gallery is interesting. Every description of movement and action is so exact that one could portray the lady as having stored this cherished memory in her mind for ever. This actually tallies with one of Hardy’s enduring theme of the power of memory and imagination. It is this same power of memory that the female-personal would resort to in the last stanza, when Age had scared Romance.
To further enrich the language, the poem explores the use of enduring imagery of sinking sad tower in stanza one, as against the romantic feeling of stanza two, where the love message of I claim thee is passed. In a strict Victorian society where women are not expected to take the initiative in a love affair, it is a bit different as she turned again despite her pride. To depict a symbiotic relationship between the two lovers, the male-personal replies in an ingenious way through music. There is a fusion of romanticism and religion here as the violinist uses the instrument of religion to convey a passion, the biblical allusion of church hymns notwithstanding.
The poem also explores effective sound effects for its expression. The enjambment in the first stanza conveys the sense of liveliness, eagerness and activity in the female –persona as she attempts to initiate contact with her lover. This free flow of passion continues into the second stanza. But in the last stanza, with ample use of caesuras and end-stops, the speed of passion is checkmated as by now the lovers are ageing and so is their love. The use of alliteration also helps to enhance the atmosphere as it is shown in sinking sad tower to portray the cold formality of a church.
The religious allusions used in the poem help to create a serene atmosphere of not only strict religious formality, but also a conventional Victorian society, with rules. However, it is within these restrictions that the lovers are able to gain expression. The lady breaks the norm outright, while the male lover uses the instruments of religion to enhance his passion. In the last stanza, the title of hymns such as New Sabbath and Mount Ephraim casts an eternal feature on their relationship, something beyond this terrestrial world. ‘
The strength of the poem, ‘’A Church Romance’’ lies in its ability to find a meeting point between two divergent; church and romance. However, by the end of the poem, it becomes obvious that love which is eternal and spiritual would re-invent itself in ‘New Sabbath’ while love would also climb high in celestial glory on to ‘Mount Ephraim’.