Famous Poets: Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardy biography - Thomas Hardy poems

As a retired literature and creative writing teacher, I’ve studied many famous poets. If I had to pick just one favorite, it would have to be Thomas Hardy. Although Hardy is most famous for his poems, he also wrote novels, short stories, and plays. Like many other readers, I’m most fascinated with his poems. He was a real master at setting mood and tone, along with creating amazing sensory images that draw readers into his verse. When you read one of Hardy’s “dark” poems, you can’t help but be immersed in the intense longing, melancholy, and desolation.

Hardy’s poems are difficult to categorize into a single period. He wrote in the Victorian era, but his poetry is also often considered a product of Naturalism. Because of his views on the common man and on the supernatural, some of Hardy’s poems also have a good dose of Romanticism. Also, Hardy is sometimes considered a modern poet due to his writing style. In fact, I began to study Hardy in earnest after I took a college class on modern poetry.

Thomas Hardy
Thomas Hardy
Max Gate, Thomas Hardy's home from 1885 until his death in 1928.
Max Gate, Thomas Hardy's home from 1885 until his death in 1928. | Source
Hardy vehemently opposed the practice of blinding songbirds.
Hardy vehemently opposed the practice of blinding songbirds.

Thomas Hardy Biography

Hardy was born in Dorchester, England, in 1840. His father, Thomas, was a builder and stone mason. His mother, Jemima Hand Hardy, was a huge influence on young Thomas. She was well read, and she often sang songs to her son and told him stories. She educated Thomas until he started attending the local school at the age of eight. There, he studied Greek, Latin, and French, along with classical literature. The boy became a voracious reader at an early age.

Hardy was also deeply affected by his rural surroundings as a boy. He loved roaming the woods and fields and observing and appreciating the beauty of the natural world. Hardy would use this setting in many of his works, as the fictional “Wessex.”

Since Hardy’s father was a builder, it was only natural that Thomas followed in his footsteps. He often helped his father with various contracting jobs, and at the age of sixteen, he abandoned school and became an apprentice to a local architect, James Hicks. Under Hicks, Hardy learned drafting, and he often worked on restoring old churches in Dorset. He had also learned to play the violin by his father, and after a long day at work, Hardy would often attend local dances, where he played his musical instrument.

After working six years as an architectural apprentice in Dorset, Hardy made the decision to move to London in 1862. He continued working as an assistant architect for another five years, but the literary side of London was now available to the country boy. He attended operas, plays, and a lecture by Charles Dickens. Hardy began writing poetry, but it wasn’t well received, and publishers refused it. In 1865, he found writing success with his satire, “How I Built Myself a House,” which won an award and was published in Chambers Journal.

After several years of failing to get his poems noticed in London, he returned to Dorset and his job with James Hicks. His writing attentions turned to fiction, and he penned a novel, The Poor Man and the Lady. He was unable to get his novel published, but the publisher encouraged the would-be novelist to continue with his writing. In 1871, another novel, Desperate Remedies, was published anonymously, and this success caused Hardy to devote his full efforts to writing. More novels followed, but the first one to receive much acclaim was Far from the Madding Crowd, which was published in 1874. Four years later, he enjoyed another literary and financial success with his novel, The Return of the Native.

In 1870, Hardy had met and fallen in love with Emma Gifford, and the couple married four years later. They moved around until 1885, when they finally settled in Dorset. Hardy designed a Victorian mansion and had his brother build it. It was called “Max Gate,” and Hardy lived there for the rest of his life. Max Gate is now owned by the National Trust.

Hardy’s marriage to Emma started off well, but she soon became disenchanted with him. She found some of his writing topics shocking, and she was also unhappy about his obsession with other women. The couple separated, and she died unexpectedly in 1912. Although he married a much younger woman in 1914 – his secretary, Florence Emily Dugdale – he never really got over Emma.

Hardy continued writing novels until what he considered his two greatest works, Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891) and Jude the Obscure (1895), received harsh criticism from his Victorian audience. His frank discussions of sex in the novels were an outrage to the prudish Victorians. As a result, Hardy returned to poetry and abandoned writing novels. He found that writing poetry served as a catharsis for his grief pertaining to Emma. His first book of poems was published in 1898, entitled Wessex Poems.

Near the end of 1927, Hardy contracted pleurisy. He died on January 11, 1928. His heart was buried with Emma in the Stinsford churchyard , and his ashes were placed in the Poets’ Corner of Westminster Abbey.

Thomas Hardy and Meliorism

Hardy grew up in the Anglican Church, and for a time as a youth, he wanted to become an ordained minister. As he grew older, however, he became disillusioned with organized religion and with the popular views on God, although he remained spiritual. He’s best described as an agnostic. He didn’t believe in a kind, loving, all powerful being. He felt that if there was a god, he was too busy to care about the daily struggles of humans, and that man was pretty much on his own.

Hardy became a meliorist. In other words, he believed that society could and would improve, but it could do so only through man’s efforts. He hated what he referred to as “man’s inhumanity to man,” and he saw war as the ultimate example. In fact, he often visited wounded soldiers in military hospitals, along with several POW camps. This was during World War I, when hardy was over seventy years old. Two poems that convey Hardy’s views on war are “Channel Firing” and “The Man He Killed.”

Hardy was also concerned with how humans treated animals. He was a member of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and was an outspoken opponent to vivisection, surgeries that were performed on living animals for the purpose of experimentation. He also opposed vinkensport, a competition in which the owners of songbirds, especially finches, vied to see how many different calls could be made in a set amount of time. The owners of the birds would sometimes drug the birds or blind them with hot needles. Although the sport was most popular in Belgium, some Victorians in England followed the practice of bird blinding, believing that doing so would make their canaries and other birds sing more sweetly. Hardy expressed his views on this practice in his poem, “The Blinded Bird.”

Thomas Hardy Poems

If you’re not familiar with Thomas Hardy poems, please take the time to read a few. In addition to the ones I’ve already mentioned, I suggest reading the following. You can find many of his poems online at poetry websites.

“She, at His Funeral”

“The Darkling Thrush”

“I Rose Up as My Custom Is”

“The Ruined Maid”

“At an Inn”

“Neutral Tones”

“The Farm Woman’s Winter”

“A Woman’s Fancy”

“An Autumn Rain-Scene”

“At Day-Close in November”

“He Never Expected Much”

“The Oxen” (I really like this one!)

“Ah, Are You Digging on My Grave” (I love this poem!)

Thomas Hardy biography:

More on Thomas Hardy:

Thomas Hardy's Wessex - Beautiful!

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Comments 26 comments

Alastar Packer profile image

Alastar Packer 5 years ago from North Carolina

You've picked a good one in Hardy habee. Knew some of his poems but not a lot about him personally. Know considerably more now with this bio though, appreciate it. Meliorism is a new term and intriguing. All in all sounds a man ahead of his time in many ways.

habee profile image

habee 5 years ago from Georgia Author

Oh, I agree, Alastar. Hardy was definitely ahead of his time! Good to see you!

Nils Visser profile image

Nils Visser 5 years ago from The Low Countries

Nice one. I know his novels really well, but never really studied the poems, except his WWI poem. A great man in many respects.

drbj profile image

drbj 5 years ago from south Florida

Thomas Hardy was extremely talented and I think many people who know of him think of him primarily as a novelist and forget what a fascinating poet he was as well. Thanks for this charming reminder, Holle.

Hello, hello, profile image

Hello, hello, 5 years ago from London, UK

That is a great tribute to Thomas Hardy. Very detailed and brilliantly written.

habee profile image

habee 5 years ago from Georgia Author

Nils, which is your favorite Hardy novel?

habee profile image

habee 5 years ago from Georgia Author

You're welcome, drbj. Thank YOU for reading!

habee profile image

habee 5 years ago from Georgia Author

HH, are you a Hardy fan, too?

Nils Visser profile image

Nils Visser 5 years ago from The Low Countries

Mayor of Casterbridge for sentimental reasons (first Hardy I ever read). For writing skills Tess of the D'Urbervilles, specifically that scene where they have the harvesting machine. Hardy manages to install the most sublime piece of personification into that machine, I thought it was going to jump out of the pages and molest me. I had nightmares about that bloody scene. Overall, though, none can beat Gabriel Oak. I'm sure Orwell took some of Boxer from Gabriel Oak. What a fine example too, for school boys to aspire to be: doggedly loyal, trustworthy and reliable. So Far from the Madding Crowd is the winner. Yours?

habee profile image

habee 5 years ago from Georgia Author

Nils, I'd have to say Tess. I'm sure one of my reasons is that I can more relate to the main character. I agree with your assessment of the harvester, but the scene I can't get out of my head is the one with the pheasants. As I said, however, I prefer Hardy's poetry to his novels.

oceansnsunsets profile image

oceansnsunsets 5 years ago from The Midwest, USA

Habee, thanks for sharing this information about Thomas Hardy. I learned a lot about him, and want to read more of his works. Its so helpful to know the background because we can understand more fully and appreciate their poetry all the more.

habee profile image

habee 5 years ago from Georgia Author

So true, Oceans. It gives readers a better understanding of the perspective.

Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 5 years ago from India

There's something so bleak and beautiful about Hardy, isn't there? Such palpable pathos couched in poignant poetry.

habee profile image

habee 5 years ago from Georgia Author

Oh, Shalingi - you're a kindred spirit! It's easy to see that you "get" Hardy! Thanks for reading.

jandee 5 years ago

Been there often habee,Bought some herbs the last time there,thanks for reminding me of a lovely day,


sheila b. profile image

sheila b. 5 years ago

This was a good article for me to read because I know nothing about Thomas Hardy. Now I'll go find some of his poems to read.

htodd profile image

htodd 5 years ago from United States

Thomas hardy was really great poet,You really given a good insights on it..

jfay2011 profile image

jfay2011 5 years ago

Interesting and well researched. I have never heard of him. I always loved Emily Dickenson. Couldn't remember if I spelled her last name right. Yay for the online spell checks. Maybe you could do one on her sometime.

habee profile image

habee 5 years ago from Georgia Author

Jandee, you're so lucky! Maybe I'll get to go someday.

habee profile image

habee 5 years ago from Georgia Author

Sheila, I hope you enjoy Thomas Hardy poems as much as I do!

habee profile image

habee 5 years ago from Georgia Author

htodd, thanks for stopping by!

habee profile image

habee 5 years ago from Georgia Author

jfay, one of my pals and former co-workers is an expert on Emily. Maybe I can interview him. thanks for reading!

Beata Stasak profile image

Beata Stasak 5 years ago from Western Australia

What a great poet, he would love your reflection on his creative life...a great tribute to a great man:)

habee profile image

habee 5 years ago from Georgia Author

Thanks, Beata. Nice to see another Hardy fan on HP!

jo miller profile image

jo miller 4 years ago from Tennessee

I came across this hub today and had to respond. I've been a fan since I was in college--a long time. I was able to visit Dorchester a few years back and it was the highlight my trip. My husband and I were doing a literary tour on our own and Hardy's home was my first choice of places to visit. You must go. Take your Hubpages earnings and just go.

Hardy loved his poems more than his novels also, as you may know. He wrote his novels just to make a living. But I love those novels. Jude is my favorite.

Thanks for the wonderful hub.

habee profile image

habee 4 years ago from Georgia Author

Jo, I envy your getting to visit Dorchester. Nice to see another Hardy fan here!

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