One of the first poems by Thomas Hardy I remember reading is “An August Midnight,” written in 1899 and collected in Poems of the Past and the Present (1901):
“A shaded lamp and a waving blind,
And the beat of a clock from a distant floor:
On this scene enter--winged, horned, and spined --
A longlegs, a moth, and a dumbledore;
While ’mid my page there idly stands
A sleepy fly, that rubs its hands . . .
“Thus meet we five, in this still place,
At this point of time, at this point in space.
--My guests parade my new-penned ink,
Or bang at the lamp-glass, whirl, and sink.
‘God’s humblest, they!’ I muse. Yet why?
They know Earth-secrets that know not I.”
With age I’ve grown more respectful of life. I wouldn’t swat any of Hardy’s named creatures, though I have no compunction about squashing a mosquito or cockroach. “Longlegs” is a generic name, applied to several species, but I associate it with the daddy longlegs, the arachnids also known as harvestmen. Their smell is memorable. Dumbledore was at first a mystery. Its use is strictly British and the OED gives “a humble-bee or bumble-bee; also dialect a cockchafer.” In the U.S. I’ve never heard anything other than bumblebee. I like “guests.” The speaker seems undisturbed by creatures that might disgust or frighten others. Hardy’s ending is a disappointment. “Earth-secrets” is uncharacteristically sentimental and romantic. Did Karl Shapiro have Hardy’s poem in mind when he wrote his revisionist The Fly”?