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 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”
“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!)