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Tess of the D'Urbervilles 1

Watching Tess milk the cows turned Angel on,
their pink udders swelling, the shape of his harp.
Poor Tess poor Tess poor Tess poor Tess--her small ark
floating toward destruction. Whistling to finches
was just one skill on her résumé. Inches
away from unemployment, Tess became
a turnip digger, a rock star famous
for shaving off her eyebrows. Her Angel
didn't mind the stubble that dangled
like chestnut rainbows over her eyes.
Once she lay down in a casket the size
of Aunt D'Urberville's lies but didn't die.
That would come later, after murder, nice
girl finishing last, dozing at Stonehenge.

Tess of the D'Urbervilles 2

Hardy came up with great names for this one:
Mercy Chant, Izz Huett, a babe named Sorrow
who Tess nursed in the fields, her tomorrows
screwed by Fate and a wishy-washy angel.
They say the reader can follow the angles
of Hardy's prose right through the countryside!
Consider this detail: Tess's mouth, wide
open, looked like a snake. She stepped on slugs
copulating in graveyards, a sly plug
for Fate again, the poet's signature
sigh of doom. Cows ate garlic that curdled
their milk, rutabaga tops were chomped by sheep
Tess frantically tallied, sad aid to sleep
nights she left her body to search for fun.

Tess of the D'Urbervilles 3

Joan Durbeyfield's fortune-telling book
was a crock. It made all the wrong predictions:
shopping malls, men on Mars, Tess would live
happy every after breeding with a prince.
(In your opinion, in what ways does Tess
contribute to her own tragedy? Discuss.)
Her father's death left her cranky and homeless,
setting up her four-post bed in the churchyard.
No wonder cautious Tess let down her guard,
that Alec was able to seduce her.
The average reader can't help but ponder
her astrological sign: Capricorn?
If only she'd lived past twenty-one,
her mother thought, she'd have been a better cook.

--Denise Duhamel and Maureen Seaton

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