Poems of the Past and the Present

  • F. B. Pinion


Of the 99 poems in this volume, which first appeared in November 1901, only thirteen had been published earlier, and only three from the pre-novel period were included. The majority cannot be dated, but most of them almost certainly belong to the years 1898–1901. The last ends on a hopeful note rather like that which concludes The Dynasts, and the volume is remarkable for the sustained onslaught* with which Hardy attempted to clear the way for John Stuart Mill’s ‘religion of the Future’.† Hardy wrote poems to please himself, not the public;‡ and, fortified by Arnold’s declaration of the function of poetry,

if what distinguishes the greatest poets is their powerful and profound application of ideas to life, which surely no good critic will deny,§

he meant to press on from where he left off with Jude the Obscure, as his note of 17 October 1896 shows (Life, 284–5):

Poetry. Perhaps I can express more fully in verse ideas and emotions which run counter to the inert crystallized opinion - hard as a rock - which the vast body of men have vested interests in supporting. To cry out in a passionate poem that (for instance) the Supreme Mover or Movers, the Prime Force or Forces, must be either limited in power, unknowing, or crud - which is obvious enough, and has been for centuries — will cause them merely a shake of the head; but to put it in argumentative prose will make them sneer, or foam, and set all the literary contortionists jumping upon me, a harmless agnostic, as if I were a clamorous atheist, which in their crass illiteracy they seem to think is the same thing …. If Galileo had said in verse that the world moved, the Inquisition might have let him alone.


Late Lyric Roman Emperor Scientific Outlook French Form Sustained Onslaught 
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© F. B. Pinion 1976

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  • F. B. Pinion

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