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2. Midnight on the Great Western.
From Moments of Vision – published 1917

In the third-class seat sat the journeying boy,
And the roof-lamp's oily flame

Played down on his listless form and face,
Bewrapt past knowing to what he was going,

Or whence he came.

In the band of his hat the journeying boy
Had a ticket stuck; and a string

Around his neck bore the key of his box,
That twinkled gleams of the lamp's sad beams

Like a living thing.

What past can be yours, O journeying boy
Towards a world unknown.

Who calmly, as if incurious quite
Of all at stake, can undertake

This plunge alone.

Knows your soul a sphere, O journeying boy,
Our rude realms far above,

Whence with spacious vision you mark and mete
This region of sin that you find you in,

But are not of?

This poem describes an almost identical scene to the first appearance of Little
Father Time in Hardy's last major novel, “Jude the Obscure.” In the engraving
some additional details have been taken from the novel, but the boy is not intended
to be Jude's horrendous little son. Whoever it was that Hardy saw on the train must
have been the source of both novel and poem, but fortunately Little Father Time
gets off at Aldbrickham (Reading) at ten o'clock. It is now midnight. Whatever
past or future the poet imagines for the boy cannot be as bleak as that dreamt up by
the novelist. The theme of youthful innocence under threat from a corrupting world
was a preoccupation of Britten's, patricularly when these songs were written,
coming as they do between the operas “Billy Budd” and “The Turn of the Screw”.
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