IT HAS been said that Thomas Hardy's career falls naturally into three periods: the period of the novels, brought suddenly to an end in 1896 by the barbarous reception of Jude the Obscure; that of The Dynasts, issued separately in three parts in 1904, 1906, and 1908; and that of the lyric poems, beginning in 1909 with Times Laughingstocks and Other Verses, and extending through Satires of Circumstance and Moments of Vision to Winter Words, which appeared some months after his death at the age of eighty-nine. But this convenient classification passes over the fact that Hardy's literary apprenticeship was in poetry and that some of the most characteristic pieces in Wessex Poems ( 1898) were written more than thirty years earlier and well before he had started his first novel.
While working industriously in architects' offices in those days, in Dorchester and later in London, Hardy was reading omnivorously and wondering how he would ever have time and money enough to be a poet. By twentyfive he was writing a good many verses, sending them off to magazines and receiving them back, promptly. At length he decided to keep his productions to himself but continued to write constantly and also "for nearly or quite two years he did not read a word of prose except such as came under his eye in the daily newspapers and weekly reviews."
Of the large number of poems thus written in Hardy's middle twenties, most were ultimately destroyed and the remainder were not seen in print until some thirty years later. Among the earliest, according to Mrs. Hardy in her invaluable volume, The Early Life of Thomas Hardy, were "Amabel", "Hap", "In Vision I Roamed", "Neutral Tones",