About Thomas Hardy
Thomas Hardy was born in 1840, the son of a stonemason. He trained and practised as an architect, but, as soon as he could, earned his living by writing the novels which made him famous. Then, after Jude the Obscure was met with hostility, he abandoned fiction and devoted himself full time to writing what he really wanted to write: narrative, dramatic and lyric poetry.
The bleakness of Hardy's vision, his portrayal of suffering and of the malignancy of fate, is balanced by his eye for ordinary things and his dry, satiric humour. 'The Ruined Maid' illustrates this latter quality, while 'In the Time of the Breaking of Nations' (first conceived during the Franco-Prussian war of 1870, but not written until the outbreak of the First World War) celebrates the resilience of the commonplace life of the country.
The other two war poems recorded here, 'Drummer Hodge' and 'The Man He Killed', address with simple compassion the almost obvious irony of war: that the men who fought and died once lived ordinary lives, but are now victims of vast, impersonal forces they could neither understand nor control.
In 'The Darkling Thrush' we can perhaps hear most clearly Hardy's unique voice. The dreary landscape reflects his 'fervourless' state of mind, but the song of the aged thrush suggests - timidly, provisionally, doubtfully - 'some blessed hope'. The plainness, almost creakiness, of the writing conveys the old man out on his walk in the winter weather, reflecting on what he sees and drawing simple lessons from it. Nothing smart or fancy: just a countryman telling you how it is.
On one of his work trips as a young architect, Hardy met and later married Emma Gifford. The marriage was mostly unhappy and Emma died in 1912. After her death, Hardy wrote an intense series of poems remembering the happiness of the early days and expressing his loss, grief and remorse. There is no better expression of the commonplace human paradox that we only really appreciate someone when we have lost them.
'The poet,' Hardy wrote in 1918, 'is like one who enters and mounts a platform to give an address as announced. He opens his page, looks around, and finds the hall - empty.'
Hardy died in 1928. Had anyone thought of it, he could have been recorded reading his own work: the technology existed then. An opportunity missed; the Poetry Archive exists to ensure that today's poets are not so neglected.
Collected Poems of Thomas Hardy (Wordsworth Editions,...
Thomas Hardy: Poems Selected by Tom Paulin (Faber &...
Thomas Hardy: Selected Poems (Penguin Classics, 1993)
The writer and broadcaster Clive James introduces a few of his favourite poems in the Poetry Archive.