I have been a huge admirer of Thomas Hardy and his books for a long time (my favourite books are Tess of the d’Urbervilles, The Woodlanders, Far from the Madding Crowd, Jude the Obscure and The Mayor of Casterbridge, and in that order), but I never previously had a chance to read his poetry and finally bought a collection of his Wessex Poems. Some find Hardy’s poems in this collection too grim, but I think they are simply hauntingly beautiful. Below I share my brief review, as well as two poems from the collection.
Wessex Poems and Other Verses [1898/2017] by Thomas Hardy – ★★★★1/2
I thought this was a wonderful collection of Thomas Hardy’s poems, touching on such themes as country life and romance, human character, doomed love, relative fleetness of youth and beauty, death and attempts to reconcile the depth of love with the passing of a loved one. There were a number of “supernatural” and “otherworldly” poems in this collection too, which makes it a perfect reading for a cosy autumn evening in or near Halloween. Melancholic, full of longing and simply beautiful, some of my favourites included Unknowing, the She, to Him series of poems and Her Immortality. Others are narratively interesting too, for example, The Dance at the Phoenix is about a woman of sixty who is swept by her memories when she hears the King’s-Own Cavalry is in town and goes dancing to unpredictable or maybe and sadly, predictable results, and in The Two Men, Hardy shows how two men are bound to meet the same destiny having the same schooling and similar inner beliefs.
Unknowing When, soul in soul reflected, We breathed an æthered air, When we neglected All things elsewhere, And left the friendly friendless To keep our love aglow, We deemed it endless… — We did not know! When, by mad passion goaded, We planned to hie away, But, unforeboded, The storm-shafts gray So heavily down-pattered That none could forthward go, Our lives seemed shattered… — We did not know! When I found you, helpless lying, And you waived my deep misprise, And swore me, dying, In phantom-guise To wing to me when grieving, And touch away my woe, We kissed, believing… — We did not know! But though, your powers outreckoning, You hold you dead and dumb, Or scorn my beckoning, And will not come; And I say, “’Twere mood ungainly To store her memory so:” I say it vainly — I feel and know! Thomas Hardy
She, to Him II Perhaps, long hence, when I have passed away, Some other's feature, accent, thought like mine, Will carry you back to what I used to say, And bring some memory of your love's decline. Then you may pause awhile and think, "Poor jade!" And yield a sigh to me - as gift benign, Not as the tittle of a debt unpaid To one who could to you her all resign - And thus reflecting, you will never see That your thin thought, in two small words conveyed, Was no such fleeting phantom-thought to me, But the Whole Life wherein my part was played; And you amid its fitful masquerade A Thought - as I in yours but seem to be. Thomas Hardy, 1866