Advertisement

The Development of Hardy’s Meditative Lyric

  • Dennis Taylor

Abstract

Like many of Hardy’s important poems, ‘Copying Architecture in an Old Minster’ is little known and never anthologised. It illustrates many of the supposed defects of Hardy’s poetry. The choice of words seems ad hoc, ranging somewhat uneasily from the archaic to the commonplace. Many of the poem’s climaxes are carried by seemingly stale formulas of expression: ‘the speechless midnight and dawn’, ‘a world so ancient and trouble-torn’, ‘ardours chilled and numb’. The meditation is fitted to a metrical frame which often seems to force the language into an artificial pattern of rhythm. The situation is a stock one, with its sinister clocks and ghosts. The poem’s final surmise seems to be the kind of obsessive conviction that early critics called pessimistic and later critics called doctrinaire.

Keywords

Lyric Speaker Memory Image Religious Believer Supposed Defect Romantic Irony 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Notes

  1. 1.
    Gross, Sound and Form in Modern Poetry (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1964), p. 14.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    ‘On Coleridge’s philosophical premises, in this poem nature is made thought and thought nature, both by their sustained interaction and by their seamless metaphoric continuity,’ according to Meyer Abrams; ‘Structure and Style in the Greater Romantic Lyric’, From Sensibility to Romanticism, ed. Hilles and Bloom (New York: Oxford University Press, 1965), p. 551. In ‘Natural Supernaturalism’s New Clothes’, Wordsworth Circle, 5 (1974), 33–40, I discuss the kinds of dilemmas and finesse which Coleridge’s premises lead to. This essay was written from a Hardyesque point of view.Google Scholar
  3. On the subject of Hardy’s characters ‘transfixed by their own perceivings’, cf. George Fayen, ‘Hardy’s The Woodlanders,’ Studies in English Literature 1500–1900, i (1961): ‘Coincidence and belatedness reveal the immobility of minds too obsessed or preoccupied to react in time’ (pp. 99, 96). Also see Henry Christ, ‘Semantics and Thomas Hardy’, English Journal, 54 (1965), 738–40; Robert Kiely, ‘Vision and Viewpoint in The Mayor of Casterbridge’, Nineteenth-Century Fiction, 23 (1968), 189–200. Roy Morrell’s Thomas Hardy: The Will and the Way (Singapore: University of Malaya Press, 1965) and J. Hillis Miller’s Thomas Hardy: Distance and Desire (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1970) also bear on this issue.Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    Felkin, Elliott, ‘Days with Thomas Hardy’, Encounter, 18 (April 1962), pp. 30–1.Google Scholar
  5. 7.
    Since Hardy referred to Haeckel and copied from a review of The Riddle of the Universe, trans. Joseph McCabe (London: 1900), he probably knew Haeckel’s famous statement: ‘The great biogenetic law … reveals the intimate causal connection between the ontogenesis of the individual and the phylogenesis of its ancestors: the former seems to be a recapitulation of the latter’ (p. 268). Whatever the statement’s validity as a biogenetic law, as an imaginative insight it may have influenced Hardy. Cf. Wright, p. 53 and Hardy’s ‘The Pedigree’.Google Scholar
  6. 8.
    Tate, ‘Hardy’s Philosophic Metaphors’, Southern Review 6 (1940), p. 107.Google Scholar
  7. 10.
    According to Rebekah Owen in Carl Weber’s Hardy and the Lady from Madison Square (Waterville, Maine: Colby College Press, 1952), p. 135. Owen’s report is confirmed by Swinburne’s 26 December 1898 letter, referring to ‘Friends Beyond’ as the poem illustrated by the frontispiece, in The Swinburne Letters, ed. Cecil Lang (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1959–62), VI, 133. In Letters II, 209, Hardy lists the poem as one of Swinburne’s six favourites.Google Scholar
  8. 11.
    Hardy agrees with Gosse’s estimate, as quoted in The Works and Letters of Thomas Hardy: Catalogue of the Carroll Wilson Collection (Libertyville, Illinois: Garryowen Press, 1949), p. 52A.Google Scholar
  9. 13.
    Hynes, Samuel, The Pattern of Hardy’s Poetry (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1961), p. 22.Google Scholar
  10. 14.
    Abrams, ‘The Correspondent Breeze’, English Romantic Poets, ed. Abrams (New York: Oxford University Press, 1960), p. 44.Google Scholar
  11. 18.
    Pound, Confucius to Cummings: An Anthology (New York: New Directions, 1964), Appendix I, p. 328.Google Scholar
  12. 19.
    Larkin, ‘Lines on a Young Lady’s Photograph Album’, The Less Deceived (Marvell Press, 1955).Google Scholar
  13. I have touched on Hardy’s influence on Larkin in ‘The Riddle of Hardy’s Poetry’, Victorian Poetry, 11 (1973), pp. 265, 269–71.Google Scholar
  14. 20.
    Bailey, The Poetry of Thomas Hardy, p. 294; Evelyn Hardy and F. B. Pinion, One Rare Fair Woman: Thomas Hardy’s Letter to Florence Henniker 1893–1922 (London: Macmillan, 1972), p. 155.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 21.
    Sir George Douglas, ‘Thomas Hardy. Some Recollections and Reflections’, Hibbert Journal 26 (1928), p. 391. In March 1913 Florence said: I have never before realized the depth of his affection and unselfishness as I have done these last three months’ (Gittings, The Older Hardy, p. 151).Google Scholar
  16. 24.
    Sir Newman Flower, Just As It Happened (London: Cassell, 1950), p. 97. Flower’s ellipses. Flower’s account, like other recollections, may not be precise in its wording.Google Scholar
  17. 25.
    Thomas Wise, The Ashley Library: A Catalogue of Printed Books, Manuscripts and Autograph Letters (London: Dunedin, 1930), vol. x, p. 130.Google Scholar
  18. 26.
    Carl Weber, Hardy of Wessex (New York: Columbia University Press, 1965), revised edition, p. 256.Google Scholar
  19. 27.
    Johnson, The Art of Thomas Hardy (London: Mathews and Lane, 1894), pp. 207–8.Google Scholar
  20. 28.
    Weber, Hardy and the Lady from Madison Square, p. 187; Wilfrid Blunt, Cockerell (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1964), p. 223.Google Scholar
  21. 29.
    Purdy, p. 166; Lillah McCarthy, Myself and My Friends (London: Butterworth, 1933), p. 104. This distinction should be borne in mind, I think, in reading Larkin’s description of Hardy’s grief: ‘Not till his first wife had died could Hardy’s love poetry for her be written, and then it was mixed with a flood of regret and remorse for what he had lost. This kind of paradox is inseparable from poetic creation, and indeed from life altogether. At times it almost appears a sort of basic insincerity in human affection.’ ‘Mrs. Hardy’s Memories’, Critical Quarterly, 4 (1962), 75–9. Dylan Thomas drew a laugh from his audience when he said that Hardy grieved Emma’s ‘absence doublefold because he had never sufficiently valued her presence’; ‘An Introduction to Thomas Hardy’, An Evening with Dylan Thomas (Caedmon Records, 1963). The implication of the laughter is that Hardy decided to feel, for literary purposes, the love which he refused to feel, with good reason, during Emma’s life. J. Hillis Miller finds through Hardy’s work what he finds in The Well-Beloved: ‘that law of mediated desire … which dictates that love will be inflamed by whatever separates the lover from his goal while at the same time providing him indirect access to her’ (Thomas Hardy, p. 175). What is ‘almost…insincerity’ for Larkin has become a ‘law of mediated desire’ for Miller. This perhaps fits a symbolist or decadent tradition better than it fits Hardy. On the subject of lost opportunity, Hardy admired Browning’s ‘Too Late’ theme: ‘there’s nothing to be said about procrastination that is not in that poem [‘The Statue and the Bust’]’, Felkin, p. 30. And there are many Hardy poems (45, 221, 270, 354, 424, 431, 355, 516, 544, 568, 577) which fulfil Pound’s description of Hardy’s philosophy: ‘Carpe diem never so coupled to an almost surprise that it, the day, should have to be seized, and usually wasn’t’ (Confucius to Cummings, p. 325). But when the moment is seized in Hardy’s poetry (211, 408, 759), it becomes a determining fate locking the lovers in a pattern which time and change overwhelm. Thus where Browning’s lovers fail for lack of moral courage, Hardy’s lovers fail ultimately because what they think and feel grows stealthily out of touch with what they are and become.Google Scholar
  22. 30.
    The Diary of Arthur Christopher Benson, ed. Percy Lubbock (New York: Longmans, 1926), pp. 260–1. Hardy made this comment on 2 November 1913. He may have been influenced by Barnes’s approach to poetry: ‘I saw all the dear scenes and well remembered events and beloved faces of youth all distinctly before me, and all I had to do was to write them down … the thoughts and words came of themselves.’ Quoted by Trevor Hearl, William Barnes (Dorchester: Longmans, 1966), p. 178.Google Scholar
  23. 34.
    Some of William Morgan’s rather complex arguments about the temporal perspectives used in ‘Poems of 1912–13’ seem to parallel my interpretation. Cf. ‘Form, Tradition, and Consolation in Hardy’s “Poems of 1912–13”’, PMLA, 89 (1974), pp. 496–505, esp. 496–7: the recriminations and guilt experienced in the recent past tend to be replaced by a vision of the distant past. Davie pushes such a view to an extreme in ‘Hardy’s Virgilian Purples’, Agenda, 10 (1972), 138–56: ‘the chilling achievement is on the contrary that remorse is excluded from them’ (pp. 148–9). Davie believes that the image of early love in ‘At Castle Boterel’ represents a metaphysical reality which triumphs over time.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. 35.
    Quotations taken from J. I. M. Stewart, Thomas Hardy: A Critical Biography (London: Longman, 1971), pp. 225–6, 220; Hynes, pp. 151, 130.Google Scholar
  25. 37.
    Viola Meynell, ed., Friends of a Lifetime: Letters to Sydney Carlyle Cockerell (London: Jonathan Cape, 1940), p. 291.Google Scholar
  26. 40.
    As Davie says, the poem ‘was almost certainly written long afterwards, when the marriage had turned out badly’: Thomas Hardy and British Poetry (New York: Oxford University Press, 1972), p. 18.Google Scholar
  27. 41.
    Thomas, ‘An Introduction to Thomas Hardy’; Larkin, ‘Wanted: Good Hardy Critic’, Critical Quarterly, 8 (1966), p. 179. Interestingly, after announcing his conversion to Hardy in the preface to The North Ship, Larkin added: ‘Many years later [after Larkin read ‘Thoughts of Phena’], Vernon [Watkins] surprised me by saying that Dylan Thomas had admired Hardy above all poets of this century.’ In Dylan Thomas’s Letters to Vernon Watkins (New York: New Directions, 1957), pp. 17–18, Watkins, referring to Thomas, said: ‘He understood … why I could never write a poem dominated by time, as Hardy could. This, in fact, was also true of Dylan.’CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Dennis Taylor 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • Dennis Taylor

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations