Hardy and the Poets
HARDY WAS, as I have said, a reticent man, and this reticence helped to create a false impression of his career in poetry which is not yet dissipated. Although he began to write poetry in his teens, some ten years before he wrote his first novel, he delayed publication of a book of poems until his fifty-eighth year. "Writing verse," he wrote to Cockerell, "gives me much pleasure, but not publishing it. I never did care much about publication, as I proved by my keeping some of the verses forty years in MS."11 This remark is slightly disingenuous; Hardy did try to publish his early poems, and with some success. "The Bride- Night Fire" first appeared in 1875, and he apparently planned to include "some original verses" in The Poor Man and the Lady. It is true, however, that, when his reputation as a novelist would have made it possible for him to publish his poems, he delayed. The delay was, I think, a symbolic gesture on Hardy's part--novel-writing was creation on another, inferior level, and only when he was free to abandon it did he offer himself to the world as what he had in fact been all the time--a poet.
When Hardy did publish his first volume of poems, in 1898, he appeared as a leading and controversial novelist who