It’s been awhile since I’ve sat down and read a large number of Thomas Hardy’s poems at one time, and I’ll admit that I find his poetry darker and more pessimistic than I remember from my first reading, certainly more pessimistic than my personal philosophy. Still, I sometimes fear his viewpoint may actually be more realistic than my own.
I remember reading a long time ago Hardy’s statement that he considered himself an ameliorist, not a pessimist; he recognized there was much that was wrong with the world but hoped things were gradually improving. You might be hard pressed to verify that from Moments Of Vision And Miscellaneous Verses, though, where the dominant moods seem to be “regret” and a “sense of loss” two moods I’m not completely unfamiliar with at my age. Of course, when it comes to “love” I’d suppose anyone over the age of fifteen could claim the same.
A sense of “loss” haunts these poems. One of my favorites is the simple:
I climbed to the crest,
The sun lay west
Like a crimson wound:
Like that wound of mine
Of which none knew,
For I’d given no sign
That it pierced me through.
The irony of identifying the narrator’s wound with a beautiful sunset somehow appeals to me, perhaps because it suggests that the wound came from a beautiful moment, one that has been lost forever and I, as well as most people, can certainly identify with that. Of course, precisely because it is so common, people dismiss it as if it’s unimportant or insignificant. Everyone else gets on with their life, why not you?
It’s impossible to read this collection of poems without coming to believe that the tragedy that haunts Hardy is a “lost love.” Poem after poem refers to an unidentified lover who has died, leaving the narrator irretrievably forlorn:
THE FIGURE IN THE SCENE
It pleased her to step in front and sit
Where the cragged slope was green,
While I stood back that I might pencil it
With her amid the scene;
Till it gloomed and rained;
But I kept on, despite the drifting wet
That fell and stained
My draught, leaving for curious quizzings yet
The blots engrained.
And thus I drew her there alone,
Seated amid the gauze
Of moisture, hooded, only her outline shown,
With rainfall marked across.
–Soon passed our stay;
Yet her rainy form is the Genius still of the spot,
Though the place now knows her no more, and has known her not
Ever since that day.
From an old note.
On one level this reminds me of a group photo where one person has been cut out, either out of hatred or merely an attempt to deny the past. Of course, trained as an architect, Hardy must have been familiar with the way painters often fill in the background, saving space for the most important subject which would have been filled in later with greater care and detail. You’ll notice that it also seems to fit the poem I cited above quite well.
The fact that even this precious shared moment was “gloomed and rained? on compounds the sense of sorrow. Though there’s no sense of the kind of “dramatic” moment most people would remember or hang onto, indeed, it was short-lived as it “soon passed or stay there is certainly something special about this girl because her rainy form is the “Genius” and is “Immutable.” In other words, it feels precisely like the spot left in your heart when you lose someone you “love.” Sometimes with love, “what might have been” seems more powerful than what “was.”