The Question of Development
SO FAR THESE remarks, like most criticisms of Hardy, have tacitly assumed that his poetry is all of a piece, one solid mass of verse expressing a sensibility at a single stage of development. For critics, Hardy has had no poetic periods-- one does not speak of early Hardy or late Hardy, or of the London or Max Gate period, but simply of Hardy, as of a poetic monolith. This seems odd when one recalls that he wrote poetry longer than any other major English poet: "Domicilium" is dated "between 1857 and 1860"; "Seeing the Moon Rise" is dated August, 1927. One might expect that in a poetic career of seventy-odd years, some changes in style and method would have occurred, some development taken place.
This is not, however, the case, and development is a term which we can apply to Hardy only in a very limited sense. In a time when poetic style, and poetic belief as well, seem in a state of continual flux, Hardy stands out as a poet of almost perverse consistency. Though he struggled with philosophy all his life, he never got much beyond the pessimism of his twenties; the "sober opinion" of his letter to Noyes, written when Hardy was eighty years old, is essentially that of his first "philosophical" notebook entry,