THOMAS HARDY'S POETRY

 

 

 

 

by

 

Luiz Fernando Campos Costa

Natlia 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 of 2003

 

 


Index

 

Essay on Hardy .................................................................................................. p. 3

 

Topical summary on Hardy ............................................................................... p. 10

 

Bibliography ...................................................................................................... p. 11

 

 

 

 


Essay

 

Thomas's Hardy Poetry

 

 

"Unadjusted impressions have their value"

Thomas Hardy

 

 

 

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:

Caixa de texto: The stout upstanders say, All's well with us: ruers have nought to rue!
 And what the potent say so oft, can it fail to be somewhat true?
 Breezily go they, breezily come; their dust smokes around the career,
 Till I think I am one born out of due time, who has no calling here.

(...)

Let him in whose ears the low-voiced Best is killed by the clash of the First,
Who holds that if way to the Better there be, it exacts a full look at the [Worst,
Who feels that delight is a delicate growth cramped by crookedness, custom, and fear,
Get him up and be gone as one shaped awry; he disturbs the order here.

("In Tenebris", part II, Poems of the Past and the Present, p. 154)

 

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").

Caixa de texto: I look into my glass, 
And view my wasting skin,
And say, "Would God it came to pass
My heart had shrunk as thin!"

(...)

But Time, to make me grieve,
Part steals, lets part abide;
And shakes this fragile frame at eve
With throbbings of noontide

("I look into My Glass", Wessex Poems, p. 72)

Caixa de texto: I told her when I left one day
That whatsoever weight of care
Might strain our love, Time's mere assault
	Would work no changes there.
And in the night she came to me,
	Toothless, and wan, and old,
With leaden concaves round her eyes,
And wrinkles manifold.

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.
I faltered: "Well... I did not think you would test me quite so soon!"

("In the night she came", Time's Laughingstocks, p. 212)

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).

Caixa de texto: If but some vengeful god would call to me
From up the sky, and laugh: "Thou suffering thing,
Know that thy sorrow is my ecstasy,
That thy loves loss is my hates profiting!"

Then would I bear, and clench myself, and die,
Steeled by the sense of ire unmerited;
Half-eased, too, that a Powerfuller than I
Had willed and meted me the tears I shed.

But not so. How arrives it joy lies slain,
And why unblooms the best hope ever sown? --
Crass Casualty obstructs the sun and rain,
And dicing Time for gladness casts a moan ...
These purblind Doomsters had as readily strown
Blisses about my pilgrimage as pain.

("Hap", Wessex Poems, p. 7)

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.

Caixa de texto: (...)
But  after love, what comes?
	A scene that lours,
A few sad vacant hours,
	And then, the Curtain.

("He Abjures Love", Time's Laughingstocks, p. 221)

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.

Caixa de texto: We stood by a pond that winter day, 
And the sun was white, as though chidden of God, 
And a few leaves lay on the starving sod, 
--They had fallen from an ash, and were gray. 
  
Your eyes on me were as eyes that rove 
Over tedious riddles solved years ago; 
And some words played between us to and fro-- 
On which lost the more by our love. 
  
The smile on your mouth was the deadest thing 
Alive enough to have strength to die; 
And a grin of bitterness swept thereby 
Like an ominous bird a-wing
  
Since then, keen lessons that love deceives, 
And wrings with wrong, have shaped to me 
Your face, and the God-curst sun, and a tree, 
And a pond edged with grayish leaves. 

("Neutral Tones", Wessex Poems, p. 9)

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.

Caixa de texto:  
When, soul in soul reflected, 
We breathed an thered air, 
When we neglected 
All things elsewhere, 
And left the friendly friendless 
To keep our love aglow, 
We deemed it endless . . . 
 We did not know! 

(...) 

When I found you helpless lying, 
And you waived my long misprise, 
And swore me, dying, 
In phantom-guise 
To wing to me when grieving, 
And touch away my woe, 
We kissed, believing . . . 
We did not know! 

But though, your powers outreckoning, 
You tarry dead and dumb, 
Or scorn my beckoning, 
And will not come: 
And I say, "Why thus inanely 
Brood on her memory so!" 
I say it vainly-- 
I feel and know! 


("Unknowing", Wessex Poems, p. 51)

Caixa de texto: I

She sits in the tawny vapour 
   That the City lanes have uprolled, 
   Behind whose webby fold on fold 
Like a waning taper 
   The street-lamp glimmers cold. 

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 . . ..

("The Wife in London", Wessex Poems, p. 9)

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.

Caixa de texto: An evening shaped I found me on a moor
		Sight shunned to entertain:
The black lean land, of featureless contour,
		Was like a tract in pain.

"This scene, like my own life," I said, "is one 
Where many glooms abide;
Toned by its fortune to a deadly dun
		Lightless on every side."

("A Meeting with Despair", Wessex Poems, p. 51)

 

 

 

 

Summary: Thomas Hardy's Poetry

Luiz Fernando Campos Costa & Natlia de Castro Guerreiro

 

1.0 Context

      End of Victorian age and beginning of the 20th century

      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 irony of modern literature

3.2 Hardy's language 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 . . ..


Bibliography

 

      HARDY, Thomas. Poems of Past and Present. In: Collected Poems of Thomas Hardy. London: Macmillan, 1952.

      HARDY, Thomas. Time's Laughingstocks. In: Collected Poems of Thomas Hardy. London: Macmillan, 1952.

      HARDY, Thomas. Wessex Poems. In: Collected Poems of Thomas Hardy. London: Macmillan, 1952.

      text on Hardy in the course booklet: no reference available.

      Miscellaneous articles available at www.gettysburg.ed/academics/english/hardy/poetry, acessed on November 10th 2003:

     CIOTOLA, Andrew. "Hardy and the Poets of World War I". 1996.

     DURANT, Desdemona. "Hardy and his Poems of 1912-1913". 1998.

     MYERS, Christy. "Hardy and the Elegiac Tradition". 1997

     NICHOLS, Ashton. "Thomas Hardy and Modern Poetry".

     NICHOLS, Ashton. "Thomas Hardy and Romantic Poetry".

     NICHOLS, Ashton. "Thomas Hardy and Victorian Poetry".

     NICHOLS, Ashton. "Thomas Hardy as a Poet".

      Pictures:

     Thomas Hardy black and white: www.bartleby.com

     Thomas Hardy and manuscript: www.members.aol.com/thardy1001

     Hardy's Wessex: www.members.aol.com/thardy1001