Funny how the mind works. Yesterday, I heard someone use the word ‘ruined’. ‘She’d been ruined’, someone said. It meant spoilt, given too much, had things her own way too much.
It’s not what Thomas Hardy was thinking of when he used the word, but my mind went to a Hardy poem I haven’t heard for years: ‘The Ruined Maid’.
It’s a lovely poem, as much for its tone as anything else. It seems a wonderfully modern sensibility for a poet we can sometimes think of as fusty or old-fashioned. I’ve added it to my ever note anthology notebook. It’s another reminder of how the people in the past were so much like us that perhaps our delusions of modernity are just that: delusions.
The Ruined Maid
BY THOMAS HARDY
“O ‘Melia, my dear, this does everything crown!
Who could have supposed I should meet you in Town?
And whence such fair garments, such prosperi-ty?” —
“O didn’t you know I’d been ruined?” said she.
— “You left us in tatters, without shoes or socks,
Tired of digging potatoes, and spudding up docks;
And now you’ve gay bracelets and bright feathers three!” —
“Yes: that’s how we dress when we’re ruined,” said she.
— “At home in the barton you said thee’ and thou,’
And thik oon,’ and theäs oon,’ and t’other’; but now
Your talking quite fits ‘ee for high compa-ny!” —
“Some polish is gained with one’s ruin,” said she.
— “Your hands were like paws then, your face blue and bleak
But now I’m bewitched by your delicate cheek,
And your little gloves fit as on any la-dy!” —
“We never do work when we’re ruined,” said she.
— “You used to call home-life a hag-ridden dream,
And you’d sigh, and you’d sock; but at present you seem
To know not of megrims or melancho-ly!” —
“True. One’s pretty lively when ruined,” said she.
— “I wish I had feathers, a fine sweeping gown,
And a delicate face, and could strut about Town!” —
“My dear — a raw country girl, such as you be,
Cannot quite expect that. You ain’t ruined,” said she.
And here’s a pretty good reading of the poem by Dame Peggy Ashcroft