The Concept of Nature in Nineteenth-Century English Poetry

By Joseph Warren Beach | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XIX
HARDY

THOMAS HARDY heralds the disappearance from English poetry of nature with a capital N. Even more vigorously than Tennyson he denies the benevolence of nature conceived as the unity of things personified or as the sum of natural laws. And since he has no religious power, like Tennyson's God, to set up in contrast to nature, as a guarantee of happiness for spiritual beings, nothing is left in him of the optimistic Weltansicht characteristic of the palmy days of nature-poetry. He has neither the naturalism of Wordsworth nor his religion-inspired optimism.

First and last, in his poems and novels, he has many references to what, as he says in "The Dynasts,"

Men love to dub Dame Nature--that lay-shape
They use to hang phenomena upon--
Whose deftest mothering in fairest spheres
Is girt about by terms inexorable!1

But Hardy seems to be clear enough through all his writing that nature is nothing more than a lay-shape, or convenient personification, and that she is strictly conditioned by "terms inexorable" which have no reference to our human notions of goodness and benevolence.

It is true that, especially in his earliest work, he sometimes refers to nature in a conventional way as the course of things which, if it could be left unopposed by artificial human arrangements, would naturally work for good ends. Thus in the earliest dated of his poems in which he uses the term nature, the sonnet "Discouragement":

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