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
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,
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”
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).
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).
In an overall review of his poetry, as Moore did, one can put Hardy’s poetry in three
- 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
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
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.
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
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.
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 <http://coyote.csusm.edu/pipermail
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 <http://www.teachit.co.uk/armoore/poetry/hardy.htm>.
Morgan, Rosemarie. "‘If It's Ever Spring Again’ TTHA Poem of the Month for
March 2008". TTHA-POTM. February 1, 2009 <http://coyote.csusm.edu/pipermail/
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. <http://www.enotes.com/twentieth-century-criticism/hardy-
"Thomas Hardy." Microsoft® Encarta® 2009 [DVD]. Redmond, WA: Microsoft
A p p en d i x
If It's Ever Spring Again
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).