Thomas Hardy: Poems

Poetry

For online poems, see "Poetry collections" below.

In 1898 Hardy published his first volume of poetry, Wessex Poems, a collection of poems written over 30 years. While some suggest that Hardy gave up writing novels following the harsh criticism of Jude the Obscure in 1896, the poet C. H. Sisson calls this "hypothesis" "superficial and absurd".[19][23] In the twentieth century Hardy published only poetry.

Thomas Hardy wrote in a great variety of poetic forms including lyrics, ballads, satire, dramatic monologues, and dialogue, as well as a three-volume epic closet drama The Dynasts (1904-8),[24] and though in some ways a very traditional poet, because he was influenced by folksong and ballads,[25] he "was never conventional," and "persistently experiment[ed] with different, often invented, stanza forms and metres,[26] and made use of "rough-hewn rhythms and colloquial diction".[27]

Hardy wrote a number of significant war poems that relate to both the Boer Wars and World War I, including "Drummer Hodge", "In Time of 'The Breaking of Nations'", and "The Man He Killed"; "[h]is work had a profound influence on other war poets such as Rupert Brooke and Siegfried Sassoon".[28] Hardy in these poems often used the viewpoint of ordinary soldiers and their colloquial speech.[28] A theme in the Wessex Poems is the long shadow that the Napoleonic Wars cast over the nineteenth century, as seen, for example, in "The Sergeant's Song" and "Leipzig".[29] The Napoleonic War is the subject of The Dynasts.

Some of Hardy's most famous poems are from "Poems of 1912–13", part of Satires of Circumstance (1914), written following the death of his wife Emma in 1912. They had been estranged for twenty years and these lyric poems express deeply felt "regret and remorse".[28] Poems like “After a Journey,” “The Voice,” and others from this collection "are by general consent regarded as the peak of his poetic achievement".[24] In a recent biography on Hardy, Claire Tomalin argues that Hardy became a truly great English poet after the death of his first wife, Emma, beginning with these elegies, which she describes as among "the finest and strangest celebrations of the dead in English poetry."[30]

Many of Hardy's poems deal with themes of disappointment in love and life, and "the perversity of fate", but the best of them present these themes with "a carefully controlled elegiac feeling".[31] Irony is also an important element in a number of Hardy's poems, including "The Man he Killed" and "Are You Digging on My Grave".[32] A few of Hardy's poems, such as "The Blinded Bird", a melancholy polemic against the sport of vinkenzetting, reflect his firm stance against animal cruelty, exhibited also in his antivivisectionist views and his membership in The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.[33]

A number of notable English composers, including Gerald Finzi,[34][35] Benjamin Britten,[36] and Gustav Holst,[37] set poems by Hardy to music. Holst also wrote the orchestral tone poem Egdon Heath: A Homage to Thomas Hardy in 1927.

Although his poems were initially not as well received as his novels had been, Hardy is now recognised as one of the greatest twentieth-century poets, and his verse has had a profound influence on later writers, including Robert Frost, W. H. Auden, Dylan Thomas, and, most notably Philip Larkin.[27] Larkin included twenty-seven poems by Hardy compared with only nine by T. S. Eliot in his edition of the Oxford Book of Twentieth Century English Verse in 1973.[38] There were also fewer poems by W. B. Yeats.[39]


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