Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Thomas Hardy: June 2, 1840--Jan. 11, 1928

In his prose and poetry, Thomas Hardy often celebrated the heroism of the individual's struggle to survive in an uncaring universe, but he seldom, if ever, glorifies the great human institutions--government, the church, war. In truth, he saw them as another enemy to fight against.

This poem is typical, I think.

(Southhampton Docks, October 1899)

While the far farewell music thins and fails,
And the broad bottoms rip the bearing brine--
All smalling slowly to the gray sea-line--
And each significant red smoke-shaft pales,

Keen sense of severance everywhere prevails,
Which shapes the late long tramp of mounting men
To seeming words that ask and ask again:
"How long, O striving Teutons, Slavs, and Gaels

Must your wroth reasonings trade on lives like these,
That are as puppets in a playing hand?--
When shall the saner softer polities
Whereof we dream, have sway in each proud land
and patriotism, grown Godlike, scorn to stand
Bondslave to realms, but circle earth and seas?"

I think that dream hasn't gotten any closer since Hardy wrote this poem. Frankly, I doubt that I will see it in my lifetime.


  1. While Hardy may have celebrated the individual, he also indicted the vanity of the individual, and pointed out the individual's insignificance when viewed in the larger context of the universe; consider, for example, "The Convergence of the Twain." These themes can also be found in his novels, which he abandoned writing (in despair) when he turned to poetry (which served as an outlet for his despair). Well, for what they are worth, those are slightly different perspective on Hardy.

  2. Thanks for sharing this - i am a bit fan of Hardy poetry. the tension between the individual and institutions has got to be one of his major concerns, yes....

  3. R. T.

    Vanity? Oh yes, that too.

    Insignificance? I saw it as a struggle in a uncaring universe, but yes, that's there also.

    Tragic? Perhaps more in the Shakespearean mode than the classic Greek or Aristotelian mode.

    Hardy's novels are blessed with many themes.

  4. Hannah,

    I'm most familiar with his novels and short stories, but it's only recently that I've begun to look into his poetry.

    I've been surprised to find what appear to be poems that are related very closely to some of his novels--not just themes, but references that point directly to a specific novel.