Luiz Fernando Campos Costa
Natália de Castro Guerreiro
Assignment due to Prof. Vera Lima for the English
Literature V course. Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro Faculdade de Letras 2nd semester
Assignment due to Prof. Vera Lima for the English Literature V course.
Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro
Faculdade de Letras
2nd semester of 2003
Essay on Hardy .................................................................................................. p. 3
Topical summary on Hardy ............................................................................... p. 10
Bibliography ...................................................................................................... p. 11
Thomas's Hardy Poetry
"Unadjusted impressions have their value"
One of the characteristics of the end of the Victorian Age and the beginning of the 20th century, according to text in the course booklet (without bibliographical reference), was "the rise of various kinds of pessimism and stoicism". At that time, pessimism, as this essay intends to demonstrate, stroke the poetry of Thomas Hardy, a transition poet who anticipated and inspired much of the modern poetry.
First, it should be conceded that Hardy did not accept the label of pessimist poet. In most of the prefaces to his books of poetry, Hardy claims his poems to be miscellaneous pieces that do not advocate a view of the world. For example, he concludes his introductory note to his last poetry book, Winter Words, with the following: "I also repeat what I have often stated on such occasions, that no harmonious philosophy is attempted in these pages — or in any bygone pages of mine, for that matter." (s/a 1952: 796) Nevertheless, if left to choose a philosophy to depict, Hardy would argue that his poems show an "evolutionary meliorism" (from the latin melior, "better"), a belief that "the way to the Better" is "by the exploration of reality, and its frank recognition stage by stage along the survey, with an eye to the best consummation possible" (Hardy, T. "Apology" in Late Lyrics and Earlier. In: s/a 1952: 526-7). By quoting a verse of his poem "In Tenebris" ("If way to the Better there be, it exacts a full look at the Worst"), Hardy believes he is discrediting the common analysis of his poems as pessimistic. However, in this very poem the "I", who sees the worst, does not belong to his time, a time of optimists. This lends the poem, in our point of view, a melancholic tone that overpowers any "meliorism" that there could be, as it can be seen in the second and the last stanza of the very same poem:
In fact, though Hardy himself gainsaid this interpretation, it seems to us that most of his poems Hardy are indeed pessimistic. Perhaps this happens due to the fact that Hardy's irony seems more difficult to be perceived by us post-modern readers, used to this resource in poetry. However, it is important to realize that this resource was not commonly used by his contemporaries, as a look in Georgian and Edwardian England can prove (Ciotola 1996:1). Thus, Hardy's poetry contained elements that would spring later in the literary scenery. To start with, his "growing sense of a morally vacuous cosmos represents (...) a plummet towards the irony that has characterized the literature of modern times." (Ciotola 1996:1). Moreover, his language use anticipated "the tough spoken quality and the breezy conversationalism of vast amounts of more recent verse." (Nichols w/d).
This conversationalism in Hardy's poetry can be easily spotted when we analyze the dramatic quality that the poet himself saw in his poems. Sometimes the poems would have a more or less explicit dialogue with rather usual language, although Hardy would use "an antique or a poetic word (thereby, a-wing) if it fits in with the movement of the poem (...): the result is an effect not of artificiality but of spontaneity." (booklet, p. 1693) In the dialogue, the second person could be, for instance, a lover (like in "In the night she came" p.212), or the "I", characterizing an inner dialogue (like in "I look into my glass").
In the two poems above, we can also see Hardy's constant pessimistic view of Time as a perverse creature that always penalizes the defenseless humans. In the first one, not only is the woman's beauty racked by Time, but also the couple's love itself is affected ("our love, Time's mere assault"). In "I look into my glass", once again Time inflicts suffering to the body and feelings of the poetic voice, "stealing" parts of the I, and thrusts his mortality upon him/her even before the day of his/her death. Actually, Time, as represented by Hardy, may be characterized as rather sadistic, since to Time we humans and our feelings are nothing but "laughingstocks" (Time's Laughingstocks is in fact the title of one of Hardy's poetry books).
In addition to Time, the forces of fate and chance, "the ironic coincidence" as the booklet phrases, afflict us by taking random control of our life. This is in a way stated by Hardy in the preface to Poems of the Past and the Present, in which he claims that "the road to a true philosophy of life seems to lie in humbly recording diverse readings of its phenomena as they are forced upon us by chance and change." A powerless human in face of Destiny is seen in the poem "Hap". Besides, a frustrated stoicism may be implicit, since the I would have liked to "bear it" all, but he cannot.
This gloom view of life affects also Hardy's love poems. As in the previously quoted "In the night she came" or in the fragment of "He abjures love" below, Time make the feelings of love change. It follows naturally that the end of the relationship, and, specially, the death of the lover work as themes for Hardy's poetry. In "Neutral Tones", the end of the relationship is associated with the scene described, showing Hardy's power of suggesting feelings through an image.
Conscience of mortality, on its turn, marks the poem "Unknowing" (please check the following page). In fact, perhaps because Hardy lost his first wife, the sense of loss is embodied in many of Hardy's love poems, which align with the elegiac tradition (Myers 1997).
Finally, Hardy's pessimistic views are also present in his war poems. Hardy shows the sadness of the "ripening years" (Poems of the Past and Present, p.77), as he calls the years of the Boer War, when people died for a discredited patriotism, using a personal approach. "The wife in London", for instance, talks of the death of a soldier . However, there is no mention to how brave he was or the honor of dying in combat. On the contrary, all we see is the moment his wife is told her husband is dead. Of course, on criticizing the empire, this approach stroke would have a very strong effect.
Thus, though Hardy did not like the term, his poems were very pessimistic: pessimist concerning the nature of life, concerning love, concerning the Empire. The mood and the language used anticipated that of the modern poems, hence the importance of Hardy today. To finish up, let us read a last fragment of Thomas Hardy's poem in which the I describes his life.
Summary: Thomas Hardy's Poetry
Luiz Fernando Campos Costa & Natália de Castro Guerreiro
Ø End of Victorian age and beginning of the 20th century
Ø Pessimism and stoicism
2.0 About Hardy and his label
2.1Concession: Hardy claimed himself an "evolutionary meliorist", not a pessimist.
2.2 Our opinion: Hardy's poems are pessimistic.
3.0 Hardy as a forerunner
3.1 Hardy's irony and sense of morally vacuous cosmos ð irony of modern literature
3.2 Hardy's language ð dramatic quality (dialogues and inner dialogues)
E.g.: I trembling exclaimed to her,
"O wherefore do you ghost me thus!
I have said that dull defacing Time
Will bring no dreads to us."
"And is that true of you?" she cried
In voice of toubled tune.
4.0 Hardy's pessimism
4.1 Men under the control of Time and Fate
"Crass Casualty obstructs the sun and rain,
And dicing Time for gladness casts a moan..."
4.2 The Poet and Love: Fate and end of the relationship, death, sense of loss
"But – after love, what comes?
A scene that lours,
A few sad vacant hours,
And then, the Curtain."
"keen lessons that love deceives"
4.3 Pessimism about empire: Boer war, personal approach
She sits in
the tawny vapour
A messenger's knock cracks smartly,
Flashed news is in her hand
Of meaning it dazes to understand
Though shaped so shortly:
He--has fallen--in the far South Land . . ..
Ø HARDY, Thomas. Poems of Past and Present. In: Collected Poems of Thomas Hardy. London: Macmillan, 1952.
Ø HARDY, Thomas. Time's Laughingstocks. In: Collected Poems of Thomas Hardy. London: Macmillan, 1952.
Ø HARDY, Thomas. Wessex Poems. In: Collected Poems of Thomas Hardy. London: Macmillan, 1952.
Ø text on Hardy in the course booklet: no reference available.
Ø Miscellaneous articles available at www.gettysburg.ed/academics/english/hardy/poetry, acessed on November 10th 2003:
Ø CIOTOLA, Andrew. "Hardy and the Poets of World War I". 1996.
Ø DURANT, Desdemona. "Hardy and his Poems of 1912-1913". 1998.
Ø MYERS, Christy. "Hardy and the Elegiac Tradition". 1997
Ø NICHOLS, Ashton. "Thomas Hardy and Modern Poetry".
Ø NICHOLS, Ashton. "Thomas Hardy and Romantic Poetry".
Ø NICHOLS, Ashton. "Thomas Hardy and Victorian Poetry".
Ø NICHOLS, Ashton. "Thomas Hardy as a Poet".
Ø Thomas Hardy black and white: www.bartleby.com
Ø Thomas Hardy and manuscript: www.members.aol.com/thardy1001
Ø Hardy's Wessex: www.members.aol.com/thardy1001