Thomas hardy – poet of time
By Prof. Wimal Dissanayake
Recently, an eminent literary scholar gave a lecture on Thomas Hardy's poetry. His central theme was the nature of desire in Hardy's poetry. After the lecture I decided to revisit Hardy's poetry. Thomas Hardy (1840 – 1928) is well-known as a novelist in Sri Lanka but his poetry does not seem to have generated the same degree of enthusiasm as his fiction. This was indeed the case in Western countries as well until recent times. Many of his novels have been made into popular films and television dramas. It is only now that Hardy is being recognized as a supremely important poet.
What is interesting to note is that apparently Hardy saw himself primarily as a poet, though he started publishing poetry only when he had given up writing fiction. To be sure, this statement is only partially true. Although he did not publish his first collection of poems until 1898 (He was fifty eight years old then), he had written them decades ago.
It is primarily as a novelist that Thomas Hardy had gained a worldwide reputation. His works of fiction such as The Mayor of Casterbridge, Far From the Madding Crowd, Jude the Obscure, Tess of the d'Urbervilles, The Return of the Native and The Woodlanders have been translated into numerous languages including Sinhala. In his novels the idea of suffering mostly that of women, fatalism and chance, decline of the peasantry and social change find repeated articulation. Some of these themes are carried over into his poetry. When speaking of Tess of the d'Urbervilles, the well-known British literary critic A. Alvarez made the following observation. 'the plangent, heartbroken, note of the great poems of loss and missed chances, which Hardy wrote more than twenty years later, after his wife's death, is already present in Tess, in the continually roused, hunting descriptions of the landscape which crystallize intermittently into visionary states of mind, and above all in the power and beauty of the heroine whom he created, and then unwillingly, destroyed.'
It took a while for Hardy's indubitable talents as a poet to be fully recognized. In recent times, there have been a number of important critical works that have sought to highlight the multi-faceted talents and complex weavings of Thomas Hardy as a poet.
There have been many distinguished poets who have acknowledged their indebtedness to Hardy. Among them are Robert Frost, Ezra Pound. W.H. Auden, Dylan Thomas and Phillip Larkin. Ezra Pound once remarked that 'nobody has taught me anything about writing since Thomas hardy died.' Auden remarked that, 'no English poet, not even Donne or Browning, employed so many and so complicated stanza forms.'
Thomas Hardy is also the author of over nine hundred lyrics. They deal with the themes of loss, regret, remorse, suffering, the power of memory and the complex interactions with time. Some of his most moving poems address the issues of disappointment in love and life. He excelled in many literary forms – the lyric, the ballad, sardonic poems, monologues and dialogues and verse dramas. He had a great respect for tradition and was clearly inspired by the Romantics, most notably William Wordsworth. The Hardy scholar Samuel Hynes has said that, Hardy was 'explicitly English, descriptive, lyrical, and formally regular and whole,' This statement, it seems, captures an important facet of Hardy's concerns and accomplishments as a poet.
Let us consider a representative poem by Hardy. It is called "Neutral Tones" and was written during his early years as a poet.
We stood by a pond that winter day,
And the sun was white, as though chidden by 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 of 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 sin, and a tree,
Amid a pond edged with grayish leaves.
This is a quintessentially Hardy poem. The human interest, the sense of loss and absence, the reciprocities of landscape and human emotion are evident. The attempt to be neutral, as the title suggests, is ironic,
Thomas hardy's poems have their origins in deeply personal experiences. He is at one close to and distant from the experiences that stirred his imagination. As Samuel Hynes accurately points out, 'it is important, though, to recognize that at the time Hardy turned from pose to poetry, he was silently suffering deep feelings of personal loss, alienation, loneliness, of emotional and intellectual failure. For Hardy was essentially a lyric poet, and the sources of his lyric poetry are personal. I would argue that the sources of Hardy's philosophy were personal too, and that the poems in which he argues with God and Nature rise from the same personal sources.'
One of the dominant and pervasive themes in his poetry, in my view, is the negative and positive power of time. Indeed, many of his most successful poems deal with this theme. We see time passing through in his poems. They reshape memories as evidenced in his ballads as well as in poems dealing with the death of his wife Emma .The present becomes the past and observation becomes memory and the human valences of these movements are deftly captured in his poetry. Let us consider a poem like "During Wind and Rain".
What we perceive in this poem is the interaction of the observed present with the remembered past. As a commentator has pointed out "in the past, as memory preserves it, human beings gather together, act, and are happy; in the present, the only reality is in natural processes, which go on destructively and relentless (the poem occurs during wind and rain ) the weather survives the poem as the remembered actors do not". This poem seems to be suggesting that old age should be regarded as what it is, an inevitable process,
It is no exaggeration to say that very few poets belonging to the nineteenth and twentieth centuries have been obsessed with time as Hardy has been. In more than nine hundred of his poems, the theme of time finds diverse and varied expression. Time was important to Hardy because he was struggling to come to terms with the conflicts between the nineteenth century highlighting of consciousness and the emerging new sciences. The loss of traditional beliefs and commonly inherited forms of life was another factor that drove Hardy to engage with the negative and positive aspects of time (He saw time as both destructive and nurturing).
His interest in the processes of change impelled him to encounters with speculative and philosophical thinking after Charles Darwin. He was also intrigued by the reciprocities between time and the mind. These concerns of his find expression in diverse ways in his poetry.
J. Hillis Miller, who has written so insightfully on Hardy's writings, makes the following comment regarding two of the most important presuppositions which underwrite Hardy's poetry. "One is the assumption that time is an illusion. For him everything already exists before it happens and goes existing after it has happened in history. Related to this static view of time is the assumption that any event is a repetition of similar events which have already occurred over and over in history and will occur innumerable times again".
As stated at the beginning, there has been a resurgence of interest in Hardy's poetry in recent times. Certain critics with a post-structuralist and deconstructive orientation have begun to engage Hardy's poetry from diverse angles. One of the most stimulating post-structuralist readings of a Hardy poem that I have come across is J. Hillis Miller's analysis of Hardy's "In Front of the Landscape". This is a poem that deals with relationship between the poetic narrator and a swarm of ghosts from the past seen from the relative detachment of a hill. Many critics have commented on the deftness with which the poet has manipulated rhythm.
Analyzing this poem, Miller says that, 'it has to do with seeing and non- seeing, and with struggles for power, by way of appropriation and misappropriation.' Thomas Hardy enjoys a well deserved worldwide reputation as an outstanding novelist.
Equally, he should be regarded as a poet of the first order.
- Govt to issue fresh statement 3108
- GMOA threatens another strike 3067
- Rs 40 Bn more needed to correct flaws 3581
- Two more students arrested 3062
- Teachers threaten strike 3064
- Scot stranded in SL begs for help to return home 3065
- Return of Lanka’s boat people 3064
- GHSATD on strike 3055
- Daylight heist in Ragama 3052
- Six million in disaster prone areas 3051
- Details on Parliament vehicles withheld 3069
- Dambulla Rock Temple 3054
- India challenges China’s intentions 3059
- Surviving the Trump problem 3060
- Foreign policy geared to promoting unity –Ravi K 3056
- Strike cripples postal services 3058
- Garbage disposal facility at Puttalam 3049
- Anti-garbage drive in WP 3048
- J-SLPFL offers flood relief 3042
- Tea growers in doldrums after floods 3046
- Government takes a step back on SAITM Ignores human nature at your peril 3233
- Ampara Muslims celebrate Ramazan on grand scale 3045
- Committee hands in its recommendations 3045
- Govt to stop SAITM enrolment and degree awards 3681
- IUSF claims leaders’ parents threatened 3081
- The march of folly Uses and instruments of disinformation 1940
- TRUMP BREAKS EID TRADITION AT WHITE HOUSE 1946
- Amsterdam – Canals, Bicycles, and Rembrandt 1946
- The Ideal of Islamic Charity 2383
- Eid-Ul-Fitr a Unique Festival Time of Joy for Muslims 2386
- Frank de Boer appointed Crystal Palace manager 2379
- SLC hires Podiatrist from Aussie 2440
- De Villiers to meet with CSA in August to decide future 2381
- Galle CC players yet to be paid 2388
- Samitha seals Bronze in Korea 2380
- Mahela dismisses report about Indian coaching job 2383
- Jayantha follows Ford’s footsteps 2997
- Akash, Taniya, Dhuwarshan, Yannik and Reshan on Top 2382
- Ricciardo wins in Baku 2380
- Coleman downed again as upsets hit trials 2380
- Social media changing our lives 1746
- Correlation between terrorism and Islam Fact or fiction? 1760
- Eid-ul-Fitr A day of thanksgiving to God in all humility 2389
- I regret introducing commercial whale watching – Ranawake 2747
- Beaten but not defeated 2728
- Railway worries and TU action 3779
- TNA jittery over TPC – C.V. Wigneswaran 2246
- TPC with a hidden agendaSeeks to weaken ITAK – Senathirajah 2149
- Lanka ranked global 5th in marine pollution– GENERAL MANAGER OF THE MARINE ENVIRONMENT PROTECTION AUTHORITY DR. TERNEY PRADEEP KUMARA 3577
- NGO funded ‘traitors’ don’t want peace in Sri Lanka – Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe 4655
- Amaranthé Bay wins ‘2017 Certificate of Excellence’ 1983
- Vespa and Aprilia SR 150 launched in Sri Lanka 1985
- The adversity of Trumponomics and Philippines goes 'Blink' 1981
- The need for a ‘Smarter Trade Strategy’ to be discussed 1981
- ThreadSol – Key to accelerating apparel exports 1982
- DR. SAMAN KELEGAMA: A STUPENDOUS CONTRIBUTION TO THE STATE, PRIVATE SECTORS 2004
- Exciting new leasing promo from Commercial Bank and United Motors 1982
- Kanrich Finance receives Carbon Conscious Certificate 1985
- Mastercard expands Labs in Asia Pacific 1984
- Sampath Bank named ‘Most Innovative Bank’ in Sri Lanka 1978
- Holistic social intervention The crying need for waste management 3836
- A time of gifts Beginning of my second year 2359
- Enlightening the younger generation 2692
- Explore what lies under the waves With the Power Ray Drone 1030
- She’s the Man: Review 1024
- Understanding Rheumatoid Arthritis 1291
- Eid-ul-Fitr A day of Love and Compassion 1297
- The Brains behind Royal and Regal 1511
- Try this when people come to you with their problems 3450
- International Yoga Day Celebration 3432
- Females born under Maha Bhagya Yoga 3444
- Latest Findings on Coconut Oil Kills Cancer in Two Days! 3706
- Birth Nakshatra says what you are – Part 4 3424
- Flying with the Flamingos Saga of the survival of the human spirit 3899
- Hindustani Vocal recital 3838
- Flying with Flamingos Literary exploration into protracted conflict 3899
- Battles and Laments 3890
- Six walks in the fictional woods 3847
- Argus-eye Indexical Dimension of Sign-Making 3826
- Pickpockets! 3641
- Haunted House 3583
- Latest lady chef in city 914
- Horton Plains invaded 1040
- Haiti 901
- GERMANY 878
- Invention of coloured crayons for kids 888
- Sri Lankan contingent to take wing 893
- Jinyoung 701
- A colourful night 697
- The story of Madura 783
- Cycling through the island 700
- It’s all about winning 708
- Flying cars soon a reality? 702
LATEST NEWSRead More