August 5, 2010

Thursday with the Poetry of Thomas Hardy

As many of you are aware, I am a serious student of poetry.  I have always loved reading poetry, even reading it out loud to myself.  I love hearing and feeling the meter and rhyming.  While I think it is clever, and I'm sure quite meaningful, I am just not much of a fan of modern poetry (i.e., the non-rhyming free verse style).  For me it just generally lacks that emotional feeling that I look for in what I consider to be well-written poetry.  Personally, I am most comfortable with poetry that spans the period from John Milton through T.S. Eliot (i.e., approximately 1650-1925).  Probably my most favorite period is the poetry of 19th century which includes many of the Romantic and most of the Victorian poets.  You can find poems and discussions of poetry from this period scattered about in around 25% of my postings on this blog.

For the next few weeks, I plan to start a quasi-regular weekly posting featuring a selected poem by Thomas Hardy.  You need to know that Hardy is quite the unique Victorian.  Not only was he an accomplished author of a goodly number of truly amazing novels, but he was also an incredibly accomplished poet (he wrote over 900 poems!).  In fact, some will say he was an even better poet than prose writer (this was Hardy's opinion, as well).  In my view, it is a toss up; I think he's damn good at both!

For my first Hardy selection, I have chosen a poem entitled Tess's Lament.  Obviously, this poem speaks directly to his novel Tess of the d'Urbervilles which I recently reviewed here.  In fact, you might like to print a copy of the poem and tuck it inside your copy of the novel.  I also encourage you to read the poem aloud and feel the meter and hear the rhyming; it truly becomes a lamentation.

Tess's Lament


I would that folk forgot me quite,
Forgot me quite!
I would that I could shrink from sight,
And no more see the sun.
Would it were time to say farewell,
To claim my nook, to need my knell,
Time for them all to to stand and tell
Of my day's work as done.


Ah! dairy where I lived so long,
I lived so long;
Where I would rise up staunch and strong,
And lie down hopefully.
'Twas there within the chimney-seat
He watched me to the clock's slow beat--
Loved, and learnt to call me Sweet,
And whispered words to me.


And now he's gone; and now he's gone;...
And now he's gone!
The flowers we potted perhaps are thrown
To rot upon the farm.
And where we had our supper-fire
May now grow nettle, dock, and briar,
And all the place be mould and mire
So cozy once and warm.


And it was I who did it all,
Who did it all;
'Twas I who made the blow to fall
On him who thought no guile.
Well, it is finished--past, and he
Has left me to my misery,
And I must take my Cross on me
For wronging him awhile.


How gay we looked that day we wed,
That day we wed!
'May joy be with ye!' they all said
A-standing by the durn.
I wonder what they say o'us now,
And if they know my lot; and how
She feels who milks my favourite cow,
And takes my place at churn!


It wears me out to think of it,
To think of it;
I cannot bear my fate as writ,
I'd have my life unbe;
Would turn my memory to a blot,
Make every relic of me rot,
My doings be as they were not,
And gone all trace of me!


This poem was first published in 1901, in a volume of Hardy's poetry entitled, Poems of the Past and the Present.  It is No. 141 in The Complete Poems of Thomas Hardy, edited by James Gibson, and published by Palgrave in 2001.  This comprehensive collection of Hardy's poetry is a must-have for any serious student of the fiction and/or poetry of Thomas Hardy.


  1. I knew Thomas Hardy had written poetry, but this is the first that I've read by him - and I will certainly be reading more. It feels a bit insufficient to say "Tess's Lament" is beautiful and leave it at that... it's a story (a ballad! It reminds me of the stories Tennyson told in his poems, or of a Celtic traditional) and I love it for that. It reads beautifully, spoken aloud, and it has a rich flavour you can almost taste, what with the first two lines of repetition, followed by all the rhymes packed into each verse.

    Thank you for this. I look forward to reading your further posts on Hardy's poetry.

    I like the illustration with which you accompany the poem, :)

  2. Oh, Entish, I am so glad that you liked this; and do stay tuned, I have so many more examples of his poetry that I want to share with all of you.

    You are also spot-on in recognizing Hardy's use of the ballad to tell the story in the poem. So much of his poetry is really the lyrical recounting of these little tales from his Wessex world and the peoples of the forest, heath, valleys and hills. The poems truly run the gamut from spooky, romantic, tragic, happy, pastoral, and even macabre. Thanks for your lovely comment, my friend!

  3. Thanks for sending this my way, Chris. We share some of the same feelings towards Hardy, as well as the same name. I'm also a tremendous fan of landscape photography... do you post any of it here?

    As I read your thoughts, I wonder if you also love Boris Pasternak? I would suggest you read "Doctor Zhivago" and get an edition with his poetry in the back. I must admit to stopping my Pasternak experience prior to indulging in his poetry, but it's something that I feel strongly about reconsidering. "Doctor Zhivago" was truly poetic in and of itself.