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Table of Contents
From WESSEX POEMS AND OTHER VERSES
From POEMS OF THE PAST AND THE PRESENT
From TIME’S LAUGHINGSTOCKS AND OTHER VERSES
From SATIRES OF CIRCUMSTANCE, LYRICS AND REVERIES
From MOMENTS OF VISION AND MISCELLANEOUS VERSES
From LATE LYRICS AND EARLIER
From HUMAN SHOWS, FAR PHANTASIES, SONGS AND TRIFLES
From WINTER WORDS IN VARIOUS MOODS AND METRES
INDEX OF TITLES AND FIRST LINES
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Thomas Hardy was born in a tiny village near Dorchester on June 2, 1840, the son of a mason and builder. He attended local schools for a few years and at sixteen was apprenticed to a Dorchester architect, John Hicks. In 1862 he went to London to work for the noted architect Arthur Blomfield, and there began seriously to write poetry, but everything he submitted to the magazines was rejected. Five years later, back in Dorset and working for Hicks again, he finished a novel—also rejected but with encouragement to write another. Sent to St. Juliot in Cornwall in 1870 to see to the restoration of its church, he met and fell in love with the rector’s sister-in-law, Emma Gifford. He was now determined on a literary career and by the time he and Emma were married in 1874, he had published four novels, including Far from the Madding Crowd, which was his first great popular and critical success. In 1885, after living in London and various towns in Dorset, the couple moved into Max Gate, a comfortable house near Dorchester, designed by Hardy and built by his father and brother. There he wrote most of his major novels, The Mayor of Casterbridge, The Woodlanders, Tess of the D‘Urbervilles, and Jude the Obscure, and several minor ones. In the mid-1890s, tired of writing fiction (which he had done to earn his living and which had by now made him rich), and disgusted with the attacks of the pious and prudish on Tess and even more on Jude, he returned to his true art and over the next thirty-some years wrote nearly a thousand poems and an epic verse drama, The Dynasts. The many years of unhappy and childless marriage and deepening estrangement ended with Emma’s sudden death in 1912. Hardy turned his grief and regret into some of the greatest elegies in literature. In 1914 he married his friend and secretary, Florence Dugdale. He was widely regarded as the preeminent man of letters in England and America and received many honors, including the Order of Merit and honorary degrees from Oxford and Cambridge. He died on January 11, 1928. His ashes were interred in Westminster Abbey and his heart in the Stinsford churchyard, a mile or so from where he had been born eighty-eight years before.
Robert Mezey has been poet-in-residence at Pomona College since 1976. A Guggenheim and NEA fellow, he was awarded a prize in poetry by the American Academy of Arts & Letters. The Lovemaker, the first of his seven books of verse, won the Lamont Award in 1960; Evening Wind appeared in 1987.
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This volume first published in Penguin Books 1998
Selection, introduction, and notes copyright © Robert Mezey, 1998
All rights reserved
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING IN PUBLICATION DATA
Hardy, Thomas, 1840-1928.
Selected poems / Thomas Hardy ; edited with an introduction and notes by Robert Mezey.
p. cm.—(Penguin classics)
Includes bibliographical references.
eISBN : 978-1-440-67321-4
1. Pastoral poetry, English. I. Mezey, Robert.
II. Tide. III. Series.
for Don and Jean
The thrushes sing as the sun is going
“This curious and wearisome volume, these many slovenly, slip-shod, uncouth verses, stilted in sentiment, poorly conceived and worse wrought.... It is impossible to understand why the bulk of this volume was published at all—why he did not himself burn the verse, lest it should fall into the hands of an indiscreet literary executor, and mar his fame when he was dead.” Thus The Saturday Review, rendering judgment on Wessex Poems, Hardy’s first book of verse, published in 1898 when he was almost sixty years old. Other reviewers were equally solicitous, worried lest this grand old man of letters diminish his reputation with these clumsy and amateurish efforts, “a dubious experiment for a proseman to sit in the Siege Perilous of poetry.” There were similar brutalities from other periodicals. Most were simply puzzled, wondering why this distinguished and popular novelist should start fooling around with poetry at his age. The Atheneum found it “difficult to say the proper word,” but then found it: “We do not conceal our opinion that Mr. Hardy’s success in poetry is of a very narrow range.” The story was much the same in America: “We are unable to find any beauty of poetic expression,” “faulty rhymes and rough accents,” “lyrical charm is almost completely absent,” and so on. And there were complaints about the dark or lurid atmosphere of the poems, the profound melancholy, the pessimism; Lytton Strachey no doubt spoke for many when he wrote, some years later, “the gloom is not even relieved by a little elegance of diction” (although he came to admire the poems and say some fine things about them). In all fairness, it must be said that there were also many good and courteous reviews, properly deferential to one of the most eminent writers in the English-speaking world; and through the years, admirers and advocates have not been lacking. Nevertheless, the disparagements continued, and although diminished, continue to this day. Sometimes they have been decidedly intemperate. In 1940, R. P. Blackmur damaged Hardy’s reputation in an influential essay, at once fatuous and savage, in which he charged Hardy with lacking a tradition, an education, and a sense of craft; said he had an authoritarian and totalitarian mind that must eventually resort to violence; that he was unaware of the nature of poetic work, incapable of choice, cynical and meretricious, unable to discriminate between good and evil, and had no idea what he was doing; and concluded that his poetry is a general failure and that his few good poems must be accidents! This from a man who published one slim volume of poems, all of them bad. F. R. Leavis was not much friendlier and almost as obtuse. In the 1960s, Philip Larkin, James Wright, and others wondered why Hardy had attracted so few good critics, and although the situation has changed somewhat in the last few decades, his poetic stock still fluctuates erratically. Well, as he himself wrote, criticism is so easy, and art so hard.
But criticism isn’t really all that easy, or there would be more good criticism. Even some of Hardy’s admirers have not known quite how to deal with him. As Donald Davie put it, “Hardy’s poetry is a body of writing before which one honest critic after another has by his own confession retired, baffled and defeated,” and he quotes Irving Howe:
Any critic can, and often does, see all that is wrong with Hardy’s poetry, but whatever it was that makes for his strange greatness is much harder to describe. Can there ever have been a critic of Hardy who, before poems like “The Going” and “During Wind and Rain,” did not feel the grating inadequacy of verbal analysis, and the need to resort to such treacherous terms as “honesty,” “sincerity,” and even “wisdom”?