Hardy’s “Moments of Vision”

I’ve been wanting to return to the poetry of Thomas Hardy where my original love of poetry began, but haven’t been quite willing to take down the Complete Poems and begin reading from the beginning. So, I was pleased when wood s lot provided a link to Hardy’s MOMENTS OF VISION AND MISCELLANEOUS VERSES at Gutenberg.

I was originally attracted to this volume by the title poem, one I still find it powerful after several readings.

MOMENTS OF VISION

That mirror
Which makes of men a transparency,
Who holds that mirror
And bids us such a breast-bare spectacle see
Of you and me?

That mirror
Whose magic penetrates like a dart,
Who lifts that mirror
And throws our mind back on us, and our heart,
Until we start?

That mirror
Works well in these night hours of ache;
Why in that mirror
Are tincts we never see ourselves once take
When the world is awake?

That mirror
Can test each mortal when unaware;
Yea, that strange mirror
May catch his last thoughts, whole life foul or fair,
Glassing it--where?

On one level, the poem seems to suggest that there is an external force (may one dare to suggest, God?) who forces us to look at our true selves, a mirror that forces us to see our “whole life foul or fair? and “glassing it? on Judgment Day.

On another level, though, it seems to be the individual himself, or, perhaps, more precisely, his conscience that re-examines his life and ultimately judges the way he has lived.

Perhaps this poem rings true because after a certain age one is apt to look back on one’s life and make judgments about how that life has been lived. It’s hard not to have a few regrets, and it is perhaps easier to become sentimental about those regrets than to see them in the framework of later events. Actions we wish we hadn’t taken may in the long run actually teach us truths that profoundly affect the rest of our lives.

That is not to say that “in these night hours of ache? that we won’t despair over decisions we’ve made and events that have shaped our lives. One would probably be less than human not to rightfully have some regrets over a lifetime of actions, and I certainly consider myself human.

4 thoughts on “Hardy’s “Moments of Vision”

  1. Your critique of Hardy’s poem is refreshing in the attempt to fit the poem within the framework of your world view. I think it’s important to approach great writing that way, allowing the poem to affect our lives. Really affect them. This isn’t just entertainment. We’re talking about truly living, and Hardy has made a valuable contribution to that process.
    I think we see the poem in the same way, although it strikes me that Hardy’s more interested in the experience of the vision rather than the content of remembered experience.
    This poem is about vision into the fact of existence, something we achieve only occasionally. Sometimes I have the sense in looking at the world – the street, a tree, the sky – that I’m looking into a gem. Not the idea of a gem. That awakening deepens with the thought that the life I’m living is really happening right now to me; that I’m not just watching this but am actually here. In the language of everyday life, that sounds stupid. But Hardy notes the “tincts? within the “mirror” vision that we don’t see in our “awake? world, a term used, I think, with irony.
    The awareness that we’re really alive is frightening, and we push it out of view with cultural myths. I remember attending a talk by a Zen priest in Cleveland, where a practitioner described having a heart attack and how every breath, every moment, was a struggle for life. The priest said “Yes, but that’s how it is all the time.? We can’t function with that constant awareness. So Hardy’s poem is titled moments of vision.
    The mirror is the self awareness that knows its mortality. Very cool that its image quality is unaffected by age or infirmity, perhaps even enhanced. When he asks where it reflects when we’re dead, the question (available only with the experience of the vision) forces meaning into our idea of death. Just beautiful.

  2. I think your comments may capture my original impression of the poem better than what I’ve written above, Tom.

    I think that impression changed somewhat,though, as I read more and more of the poems in this volume, many of which seem to focus on a “lost love,” which, in turn, seems to represent an alternative life that Hardy has missed out on.

  3. While I have only read Hardy’s work that has been anthologized, what has always drawn me to the writing has been the plaintive tone of the work. Certainly the haunting of a ‘lost love’ would be a powerful muse. Hardy did have a significant love in his early life that was ended without reconciliation.

  4. A Romanian visitor to your site came to mine from this post. Judging by the location of my link on your blogroll, I would guess the visitor was reading The Wound and not Moments of Vision when he/she availed my link. Shelley isn’t that much of a leap for Hardy readers. I’ve posted my Krez translations on the comment thread of a post about Krez at the AATIA (Austin Area Translators and Interpreters Association)website. Found that post the same way I found this one. It came in on the shoes of one of my visitors. Didn’t say a word. Just dropped it off and left.

What do you think?