Hardy and the Critics
"THE TROUBLE with Hardy," a man I know once remarked, "is that he is nobody's favorite poet." By this he meant, I think, that great poets need great partisans of their poetry, and that what comes in the end to be the common, public evaluation of the poetry may originate in, or at least be influenced by, the partisanship. At some point in his career the poet needs enthusiastic admiration, true-believers to enunciate and formulate his virtues. Although Hardy came to the conclusion that "a poet may be much injured by overcriticism, that too much commenting and prying into motives, etc., rub the bloom off the poetry,"1 one might argue instead that criticism rubs the bloom on, and poems, like furniture, gain a patina from much handling. Hardy's poetry has not acquired a patina, for so far it has attracted few passionate admirers.
And so, while he seems to occupy a secure position in the hierarchy of English poets, and is in the anthologies and the textbooks, the reasons for his being there remain undefined. Most critics would, I am sure, say that of course they take Hardy's poetry seriously; but in fact few have taken it seriously enough to write about it.
The difficulties which lie in the way of liking Hardy