Thomas Hardy


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Thomas Hardy

  1. 1. A Review of Thomas Hardy’s Life and His Literary Works, with an Emphasis on His Poetry and an Analysis of If It’s Ever Spring Again Mehdi Hassanian esfahani (GS22456) Modernism and Beyond (BBL5106) Mr. Rohimmi Noor March 2009
  2. 2. Introduction The following study introduces Thomas Hardy and investigates through his personal life in order to find a clue for better interpretation of his poetry. At the end I will discuss and analyze a poem as an example and will sum up about his poetry in the conclusion. Biog raphy of Tho mas Hardy Thomas Hardy (1840 – 1928) the naturalist author of Victorian era, was born in the village of Higher Bockhampton, near Dorset, England, the oldest of the four children (two boys and two girls) of Thomas and Jemima Hardy. His father was a stonemason and his mother was well-read who educated him until he started his school at age 8 and studied language and literature. Reaching 16, Hardy interrupted his formal education when he became apprenticed to John Hicks, a local architect who specialized in restoring old churches. After that, in 1862 he moved to London to study at King’s College. Although he won some prizes during the next five years, he decided to leave architecture when he returned to Dorset and dedicated his life to the world of literature; poetry, novel and short story. In 1870, according to Gibson, when he was on an architectural mission to restore a church in Cornwall, Hardy met Emma Lavinia Gifford, whom he fell in love with and married four years later. They lived near London until 1876, when they settled in Dorset. Although much of the evidence has been destroyed, according to Encarta Encyclopedia, “it seems that Thomas and Emma, after an initial period of happiness, had a marriage marred by bitterness and resentment”. In the classic biography of Hardy, Millgate affirms that they became estranged from each other; however accordingly, they “lived, [2]
  3. 3. visited, and entertained together. They shared in the particular, day-to-day business of maintaining a household and a social life” (287). Unfortunately in 1912, Emma died and her sudden death never left Hardy’s mind. Despite his second marriage with the devoted secretary Florence Dugale, who was about 40 years younger than him, Hardy remained preoccupied with Emma’s death and tried to overcome his remorse ‘by creating in poetry what he had failed to achieve in marriage’. This is a key to understand Hardy’s poetry, because most of them are addressed to Emma or reflect the loss of a beloved he experienced in 1912. A recurring theme in Thomas Hardy’s writings is “the sadness of romantic love, which matrimony changes from bliss into misery” (Encarta Encyclopedia). In January 1928, Hardy died of heart disease. His funeral was on January 16 th at Westminster Abbey, and it proved a controversial occasion because Hardy and his family and friends had wished for his body to be interred at Stinsford in the same grave as his first wife, Emma. However, his executor, Sir Sydney Carlyle Cockerell, insisted that he be placed in the abbey's famous Poets' Corner. A compromise was reached whereby his heart was buried at Stinsford with Emma, and his ashes in Poets' Corner. His Majo r W orks Although Hardy wrote in different genres, but he is well-known for his novels; among them are: A Pair of Blue Eyes (1873) and the pessimist novel of Far from the Madding Crowd (1874) which was the first of Wessex novels, The Return of the Native (1878), The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1891) and the last Wessex novel, Jude the Obscure (1895). Almost all of them narrate the story of a helpless protagonist who is “caught in the web of a rigid, conservative social system” (Witalec). [3]
  4. 4. According to Witalec, early criticism on Hardy was mixed and controversial, especially regarding his two last novels. Debate was on the morality in Hardy’s novels and the explicit sexuality which was in his works. Jude the Obscure, often referred to as ‘Jude the Obscene’ was heavily criticized for its apparent attack on the institution of marriage. Some booksellers sold the novel in brown paper bags, and the Bishop of Wakefield is reputed to have burnt a copy. Anyhow, most criticisms and reviews were focused on his well-known novels at that time. It was in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries that scholars began to pay attention to his poetry, the “genre neglected for several decades by critics” (Witalec). They dedicated several journals to Thomas Hardy. His Po etry Hardy had a pessimist view on life and love, was watchful about relationships and interested in psychology of behaviors. His meticulous description of events and characters is not limited to humans, and even nature and animals play a role in the setting of what he narrates and are related to the theme. His explicit use of sexual images and the plot of his novels distinguish his modern style of writing. His dramatic techniques make his plays different and his unconventional view of love, the regret and loss which is implied in his poems, differentiate his poetry from his contemporaries. Hardy himself preferred poetry and wrote verse throughout his life. But it was in 1989 that published the first collection of poems, Wessex Poems, written over 30 years. His pessimist view, which was in contrast with beauty of nature and optimism of Victorians, was against the public taste of his time. He published about 13 volumes of poetry, but they weren’t studied and applauded before recent years. He wrote in variety of genres, from epic drama (ex. The Dynasts) to cheerful ballads (ex. The Children and Sir Nameless). [4]
  5. 5. In an overall review of his poetry, as Moore did, one can put Hardy’s poetry in three categories: - War Poems, which were written at the times of the second Boer War of 1899-1902 and the Great War of 1914-1918. They include diversity of moods and themes, and cannot be considered in favor of a same propaganda. Some like Channel Firing, are written in a pessimist view and condemn man’s warlike stupidity, others like In Time of ‘The Breaking of Nations’ are triumphantly optimistic about future. - Poems about Emma, are mostly written to reduce the guilt Hardy felt inside for his neglect of Emma. They explore the relationship which was started by happiness and promises of prosperity, but ended in bitterness and heavyheartedness. The Going, is a good example in which the persona asks several questions, and cannot find an answer for them. It starts with this stanza: Why did you give no hint that night That quickly after the morrow's dawn, And calmly, as if indifferent quite, You would close your term here, up and be gone Where I could not follow With wing of swallow To gain one glimpse of you ever anon! (318) - Next category would be philosophical and personal poems, which are again full of references to his personal life and Emma. For example in Shut Out That Moon, he pessimistically explores the idea of time and change, and talks of the past happy [5]
  6. 6. experiences they had once. To an Unborn Pauper Child is another one, discussing the future of a child soon be born into poverty. And in The Oxen, he refers to a superstition about Christmas. Thoma s H ardy’s If It’s Ever Spring Ag ain To complete this study, I want to analyze a rarely discussed poem by Hardy, If It’s Ever Spring Again in the followings. The poem, or as Hardy called it the 'song' If It's Ever Spring Again deals with spring and summer; two bright and shiny seasons which normally warm the nature and people by the energy and hope they spread around. Hardy depicts spring with many positive qualities, when happiness is all around. He talks of not common characters, like moor-cock and moor- hen, which according to Morgan, the editor and publisher of the annual Hardy Review, are “shy, undemonstrative creatures rarely drawn from their coverture under the river-bank to gladden the heart of spring” to emphasize this supreme enthusiasm. As a result of this depiction, the prominent imagery in this poem is the visual imagery; which suddenly puts us in the middle of the nature. At first, Hardy reminds himself a day in spring, when he (the persona) was able to stand next to the beloved ‘with arms around her’ and enjoy the beauty of spring. He feels prospered and thinks of spring as a complete season, as well as himself. Then in stanza two, he leaps to another memory in a summer day, with again the perfection of setting and the inner sense of fulfillment, when the ‘day crop’ is ‘at the prime’, ‘bees achime’ and cuckoos are singing in rhyme. But it is not all. Richards explains that Hardy was interested in nature, and for him nature was equal to beauty, but also clarifies that “he was more interested in [6]
  7. 7. strangeness than conventional beauty” (190). It is as if the beauty of nature is not the ultimate goal of his poetry. Narrator’s effort to create the cheerful setting of spring and secure sense of golden summer are just to intensify the profound meaning which is implied in the poem. The ‘if’s and ‘ever’s convey a sense of regret. Thinking of past days, the narrator cannot understand the lack which is now in his life. And the poem ends on a note, as if he lives in the past and doesn’t dare to face the future. In this sense, the whole poem seems not a delightful praise of spring, but an envy of the past. That’s Mellers’ view who considers this poem ‘a song of nostalgia’. Taking birds and bees, according to Cortus, the Vice President of The Thomas Hardy Association, as “collectively a trite euphemism for sex”, two cuckoos can be a metaphor of lovers (which includes the narrator), and his doubt in line 14, about their singing ‘As they used to … or seemed to’ be together, demonstrates the pessimist atmosphere which is settled in the mind, as well as the heart of this narrator that even cannot trust his beloved, and the past. In this case, the whole poem presents a continual abstract dreaming, disclosing the dimness melancholy that the narrator feels inside. It can suggest that the narration of past and this memory is not reliable, due to the obsession of narrator to his relationship, and the traumatic lost he has in his life. Conclusio n Talking about Hardy’s poetry, Blackburn asserts that the magnetism of his poems “is built around a complex of love and loss, memory and guilt, pain and self-pity, beauty and regret intermingled with something of delight” (12). In this poem, he uses images of spring and summer and refers to nature to express the emotions and create the setting, so that he compares two conditions of past and present. The primary setting and the visual imagery play [7]
  8. 8. a strong role, metaphorically, to the oppositions, and intensifies the sense of regret. This technique is effective in a way to create the atmosphere and express the sadness this persona feels in his present life. [8]
  9. 9. Works C ited Blackburn, John. Hardy to Heaney. Hong Kong: Oliver & Boyd, 1986. Cortus, Betty. "‘If It's Ever Spring Again’ TTHA Poem of the Month for March 2008". TTHA-POTM. February 1, 2009 < /ttha-potm/2008-March/000534.html>. Gibson James. Chosen Poems of Thomas Hardy. London: Macmillan Education Ltd, 1975. Hardy, Thomas. The Works of Thomas Hardy. UK: Wordsworth Editions, 1994. Mellers, Wilfrid. "Britten's 'Lyrics and Ballads of Thomas Hardy': Sad Tales for Winter". The Musical Times. Vol. 142, No. 1877. Winter 2001: 27-33. Millgate, Michael. Thomas Hardy. USA: Oxford University Press, 2006. Moore, Andrew. "Thomas Hardy's poetry - study guide". English Teaching Online. February 18th, 2009 <>. Morgan, Rosemarie. "‘If It's Ever Spring Again’ TTHA Poem of the Month for March 2008". TTHA-POTM. February 1, 2009 < ttha-potm/2008-March/000536.html>. Richards, Bernard. English Poetry of the Victorian Period 1830-1890. USA: Longman, 1988. Witalec, Janet. "Hardy, Thomas: Introduction". Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism. Vol. 143. Gale Cengage, 2004. < thomas> "Thomas Hardy." Microsoft® Encarta® 2009 [DVD]. Redmond, WA: Microsoft Corporation, 2008. [9]
  10. 10. A p p en d i x If It's Ever Spring Again (Song) If it's ever spring again, If it's ever summer-time, Spring again, summer-time, I shall go where went I when With the hay crop at the prime, Down the moor-cock splashed, and hen, And the cuckoos – two – in rhyme, Seeing me not, amid their flounder, As they used to be, or seemed to, Standing with my arm around her; We shall do as long we've dreamed to, If it's ever spring again, If it's ever summer-time, Spring again, Summer-time, I shall go where went I then. With the hay, and bees achime (563). [10]