Domicilium

Bockhampton.jpg

Photograph by Christopher Benson

On a recent trip to Dorset, I visited Thomas Hardy’s cottage at Higher Bockhampton, which he memorialized in verse. “Domicilium” is the Latin word for home or dwelling place. James Gibson offers this commentary in Chosen Poems of Thomas Hardy: “Hardy wrote this poem when he was in his late teens. It describes the cottage at Higher Bockhampton in which his family had lived since 1801, in which he had been born in 1840, and where he lived for most of the first thirty years of his life. This is the earliest piece of Hardy’s verse known to have survived. It shows the influence of the poet, Wordsworth. His ‘father’s mother’ was Mary Hardy about whom he writes in ‘One We Knew.'”

I was struck by how little has changed since the writing of his poem. Hardy contrasts the manicured garden with the luxuriant wilderness that surrounds it, almost as if every childhood home is the Garden of Eden and every family is no different than the original gardeners. I infer that domesticity means assiduously following the cultural mandate of Genesis 1:28: to exercise creative and caring dominion over the earth. The word “culture” comes from the Latin cultura, which means “growing, cultivation.” If a home does not cultivate itself, the poet implies that it will be “o’ergrown with bramble bushes, furze and thorn,” symbolizing something wild or disorderly.

Domicilium

It faces west, and round the back and sides
High beeches, bending, hang a veil of boughs,
And sweep against the roof. Wild honeysucks
Climb on the walls, and seem to sprout a wish
(If we may fancy wish of trees and plants)
To overtop the apple-trees hard by.

Red roses, lilacs, variegated box
Are there in plenty, and such hardy flowers
As flourish best untrained. Adjoining these
Are herbs and esculents; and farther still
A field; then cottages with trees, and last
The distant hills and sky.

Behind, the scene is wilder. Heath and furze
Are everything that seems to grow and thrive
Upon the uneven ground. A stunted thorn
Stands here and there, indeed; and from a pit
An oak uprises, springing from a seed
Dropped by some bird a hundred years ago.

In days bygone –
Long gone – my father’s mother, who is now
Blest with the blest, would take me out to walk.
At such a time I once inquired of her
How looked the spot when first she settled here.
The answer I remember. ‘Fifty years
Have passed since then, my child, and change has marked
The face of all things. Yonder garden-plots
And orchards were uncultivated slopes
O’ergrown with bramble bushes, furze and thorn:
That road a narrow path shut in by ferns,
Which, almost trees, obscured the passer-by.

‘Our house stood quite alone, and those tall firs
And beeches were not planted. Snakes and efts
Swarmed in the summer days, and nightly bats
Would fly about our bedrooms. Heathcroppers
Lived on the hills, and were our only friends;
So wild it was when first we settled here.’

Notes:

  • esculents – vegetables
  • efts – small lizards
  • Heathcroppers – heath ponies
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