Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure is a novel that meant a great deal to my mother when she was pressed to major in education rather than follow her dreams in college – a career school teacher, she has always loved books and adventure, and has always felt cramped in her profession and her role as a single working mother. I finally read the novel for the first time this year, and it helped me find a way to relate to her on her own terms – I never understood her dislike of her job until I saw her life through this lens.
This poem, based on the 33rd Psalm, is addressed to Jude in the voice of various villagers whose “common sense” disapproval of his scholarly ambitions is parochial in the extreme. The picture above is from a screen adaptation entitled Jude, starring Christopher Eccleston and Kate Winslet.
Sing softly, if in Latin, to the wet heath;
for the tradesman, the least said is befitting.
Recite the Greek and Hebrew under your breath,
with a scholar’s hesitations make your prayers.
Set to your heart new Psalms, but give nothing out,
ply your trade deftly, and keep your soul apart.
For the harsh laws of circumstance are binding,
and we must shoulder each our own in good faith.
Time rewards the unassuming laborer.
virtue’s kindness toward the meek is all you need.
Just so did your maker fashion the heavens,
out of the same providence sprang their array.
The same hand gathers like a barrow deep seas,
and fashions treasure houses of the great reefs.
All the earth fears the one who gave you your lot,
all dwell in his creation, all dread his wroth.
For He need only speak – it will come to be;
as He commanded, even so has it stood.
Long has He thwarted the counsel of nations,
unravelling all the devisings of men.
The Lord’s counsel will always weigh upon us,
it is all we can do, to study His heart.
Happy the village whose people seek the Lord,
whose simple people choose as they are chosen.
From the glittering firmament God looks down,
and He sees every villager among us.
From His exalted throne our Lord can survey
all the human sinners who dwell on the earth.
He fashioned even your heart, your vanities.
He who made one and all understands you well.
No king owes his rescue to his own success,
no warrior escapes death through his own power.
A horse will not save you from your enemies,
his wonderful speed will help no one escape.
Can’t you see? His eye is on those who fear Him,
who yearn only for an easing of their lot,
to postpone death a little while for loved ones,
and in times of famine, for help to provide.
Be sensible, modest, and wait for the Lord.
Be thankful your future is already planned.
For in providence the small man rejoices,
for all we need trust in is His holy name.
Turn in your schoolbooks, and pray for mere kindness,
what more do you yearn for, in all the wide world?