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About this book

Gillian Steinberg offers an approachable introduction to the poems of one of the most prolific and influential English writers, through an examination of wide-ranging selections from his work.

Part I of this invaluable study:
• provides clear and stimulating close readings of Thomas Hardy's key poems
• considers major themes in Hardy's poetry, including ghosts, God's role in the world, war, and the painful passage of time
• summarizes the methods of analysis and provides suggestions for further work.

Part II supplies essential background material, featuring:
• an account of Hardy's life and works
• samples of criticism from important Hardy scholars.

With a helpful Further Reading section, this insightful volume is ideal for anyone who wishes to appreciate and explore Hardy's poetry for themselves.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Introduction

Abstract
When I mention to friends and acquaintances that I have been spending the bulk of my time lately thinking about Thomas Hardy, they almost inevitably expect that I am writing about his novels. Perhaps because novels are more widely read these days than poems, or because some of Hardy’s novels include unforgettable plots and characters, like Tess Durbeyfield and Eustacia Vye, or because some of the novels are known for their film versions, most readers today think of Hardy primarily as a novelist. They are often not even aware that Hardy wrote poems, yet he actually composed more than 1000 poems, many of which are very highly regarded.
Gillian Steinberg

Analysing Thomas Hardy’s Poems

Frontmatter

1. Poet as Storyteller

Abstract
We will focus on two parts of this seven-part poem. First, we will consider the sixth of the seven poems, entitled “A Wife Waits”:
Will’s at the dance in the Club-room below, Where the tall liquor-cups foam; I on the pavement up here by the Bow, Wait, wait, to steady him home.
Will and his partner are treading a tune, Loving companions they be; Willy, before we were married in June, Said he loved no one but me;
Said he would let his old pleasures all go Ever to live with his Dear. Will’s at the dance in the Club-room below, Shivering I wait for him here.
Written in four-line stanzas with alternating patterns of four feet and three feet per line, this poem’s rhythm resembles the raucous dancing it depicts in the fair’s dance hall. Hardy’s emphasis is not merely on describing the place or the scene but on telling the story of William, whose wife reports that he once “said he loved no one but me” but who now dances with a different partner. The sadness of the poem’s theme counteracts its festive rhythm, comingling William’s gaiety with his wife’s solitude.
Gillian Steinberg

2. Ghosts

Abstract
This chapter focuses on Hardy’s depictions of death and what happens after death, topics that preoccupy Hardy throughout his writings. Often, these concerns manifest themselves in ghost characters, a variety of whom we will consider now.
Gillian Steinberg

3. God, Man, and the Natural World

Abstract
Hardy’s poems, which resemble some earlier poetic styles both formally and thematically, explore faith, spirituality, and belief, in notably modern ways, as we began to see in the previous chapter. Unlike earlier religious poems, in which God is loving, omnipotent, and deeply concerned with humanity, in Hardy’s poems, God is far from benevolent or healing and is, instead, either maliciously malignant or cruelly, intentionally absent. Hardy struggles with these two poles but seems not to be able to discern any other model based on his observations of the world. Certainly his poems contain no blessing and no sense of humans prevailing over evil. Instead, Hardy consistently underscores the notion of entrapment between two unpleasant possibilities: either God intervenes in the world but so hates it that He actively works to punish its inhabitants, or God does not intervene in the world and instead leaves it to function on its own, which it does with an inevitable inclination towards punishment of its inhabitants. Obviously, both possibilities result in extreme human misery, and Hardy spends many of his poems trying to determine which view might be the truer one. That there might be any other option is hardly considered, since no other option — at least, none that involves happiness, reward, or human achievement — apparently seems true to Hardy’s experience of the world.
Gillian Steinberg

4. War and Its Casualties

Abstract
Hardy’s war poems are among his anthologized works, but, with few exceptions, they focus not on the fighting itself but on individuals and society in a time of war. In these poems, Hardy confounds expectations — as he so often does — but in these poems he does so by taking a subject that most people associate with death and focusing instead, with just a few exceptions, on the living. In the same way that Hardy often uses poems about love to meditate on death, he uses the subject of war to meditate on life, marriage, human relationships, religion, and writing, among other things.
Gillian Steinberg

5. The Self and Time

Abstract
The concept of time manifests itself in two ways in Hardy’s poetry: in form and in content. His formal layering of time periods, incorporating several distinct moments in a single poem, lends richness and scope to his poems, even very short ones, and deepens their narratives by presenting the same scene from multiple perspectives. This formal inclusion of time is often coupled with an explicit theme of time as he discusses, laments, ponders, and rails against time’s passage in a variety of ways.
Gillian Steinberg

The Context and the Critics

Frontmatter

6. Hardy’s Life and Works

Abstract
Thomas Hardy was born in 1840 in Dorset, trained in his youth as an architect, and moved to London in 1862 to work in architecture. After the publication of Far From the Madding Crowd in 1874, Hardy became sufficiently successful to focus full time on his writing, and he did not return to architecture thereafter. He married his first wife, Emma, whom he met in Cornwall on a business trip, in 1874 and moved with her to Max Gate, a home he designed in Dorset, in 1885. Although Hardy is most often associated with rural life, he did live for several years in London and then chose to return to his geographical roots. Hardy and Emma remained together until her death in 1912; two years later, he married his much younger secretary Florence Dugdale. During his years with Emma, he is thought to have had one or two chaste affairs with other women with whom he felt an intellectual kinship, and his eventual marriage to Florence grew out of their many years of professional and personal relationship during Hardy’s marriage to Emma. He continued to write prolifically until his death, at the age of 87, in 1928.
Gillian Steinberg

7. Critical Views

Abstract
Critical and scholarly work on Hardy is probably 70% about the novels and 30% about the poems; within the body of work about the poems, a large portion of that — perhaps half — concerns the Poems of 1912–13. And yet much important work has been done on the poems more generally, so this chapter will offer some representative critical views of Hardy’s verse, both from his time and more recently, culminating with studies of four contemporary Hardy scholars whose focus is primarily the poetry, especially the broad views of his poems.
Gillian Steinberg
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