The Dynasts as an Example
SOONER OR LATER the artist involved with questions of meaning and belief (and this probably means every major artist) must feel the need to impose upon his ideas the complex organization which a long work requires. At the same time the conditions of belief in our time raise special problems for the artist with such intentions; he can neither assume a core of beliefs common to himself and his audience nor adopt the long forms which artists have traditionally used for such statements. Consequently, the long works which modern writers have produced have tended to be private, difficult, and eccentric--Ulysses, The Cantos, The Waste Land, and "The Comedian as the Letter C" have these qualities in common, if they have nothing else. None is epic in a traditional sense, though all have epic elements; none has a traditional hero; none depends on or asserts traditional values. They are epics for an age in which epic action is impossible.
The Dynasts is Hardy's venture into this realm of the modern epic. But for our purposes it is something more than that; it is Hardy's great effort to put his philosophical and poetic principles into practice on the largest possible scale. That tremendous scale makes The Dynasts useful as