Academic journal article Victorian Poetry

Thomas Hardy

Academic journal article Victorian Poetry

Thomas Hardy

Article excerpt

At various intervals throughout the millennium years Thomas Hardy has made several appearances in The Times and not simply as the subject of the subject, as in reviews in the TLS of critical work exploring his poetry, philosophy, biography and novels. From the TLS's June 2006 publication in honor of his birthday, featuring his poem, "A Private Man on Public Men"--first collected posthumously in the year of his death (1928), in Winter Words in Various Moods and Metres--to the TLS annual Christmas Quiz where riddling allusions to Hardy's verse appear to challenge the most erudite of his readers (if the Quiz blog is indicative), The Times publication devotes almost as much attention to Hardy's work as it did nigh on 100 years ago. Indeed, "Song of the Soldiers" may invoke a certain proprietary interest: first printed in The Times (November 10, 1914), with the express statement that "Neither Mr. Hardy nor 'The Times' reserves copyright," the poem was widely reprinted in those early war days as Hardy had evidently hoped and intended (given the waived copyright). Two months later, under its new title "Men Who March Away" ("Song of the Soldiers" subordinated to subtitle), the poem was collected in Satires of Circumstance in what Purdy calls a "last-minute Post-Script to that volume"; later still, it was transferred to Moments of Vision and Miscellaneous Verses (1917) where, as in all subsequent editions, it is placed at the head of the group of "Poems of War and Patriotism" where, according to Purdy, it more properly belongs" (Pettit, p. 157).

More recently "Song of the Soldiers" enjoyed an encore in The Times (interestingly the TLS still retains Hardy's original, unrevised title), as a pre-Remembrance poem (November 5, 2007), accompanied by a short profile of the poets Robert Bridges, John Drinkwater, and Walter de la Mare. According to the "profile" most of these poets strike a note of national resolve--"in our heart of hearts believing"--a "note" which was all too soon to become bitterly discordant, after 1918, among the War Poets. According Hardy's "Song of the Soldiers" primacy among the pre-Remembrance war poems, The Times reminds readers that the poem's repeated phrase, "Men Who March Away" gave Ian Parsons the title for his anthology of poems of the First World War (1987).

   What of the faith and fire within us
        Men who march away
        Ere the barn-cocks say
        Night is growing gray,
   Leaving all that here can win us;
      [Originally, "To hazards whence no tears can win us;"]
   What of the faith and fire within us
        Men who march away?

In "The Poet Thomas Hardy" (TLS, January 28, 2010) the contributor/editor self-named "unknowing" offers a generous array of well-informed views on Hardy's poems (I strongly suspect "unknowing" to be Tom Paulin) observing, among other things, that whereas "Hopkins had faith to give him a spiritual realm and the supernatural" Hardy was fascinated by the "material exchange of decomposition." Citing "Transformations" as exemplary in this context "unknowing" wants us to notice

   how he creates the sense of rising with the yew, and falling with
   the thought of the man buried under it. The emphasis of the rhyme,
   coming as it does after the rushing anapest, is to settle the word
   "knew" much deeper in the voice than the word "yew." And the
   initial anapestic foot of the second line seems to slide down after
   the discovery in the first line that not trochees but iambs are
   afoot. Just try saying it and pitching "knew" higher than "yew."
   You can't do it with any dignity; the construction of the lines
   require we descend.

On "Proud Songsters," "The Walk," "The Two Houses," and "The Shadow on the Stone" "unknowing" offers yet more of these insightful gems: "transformation is material, and you are left with a sense that while Hardy could not escape the positivism of the learned of his age, he was still not able to escape the sense of spirit in the world. …

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