Analysis of Thomas Hardy
Ouestion Hardy has been described as “very dark and morbid”. Discuss with reference to three poems. “To me the universe was all void of Life, of purpose, of volition, even of hostility, it was one huge, dead, immeasurable, Steam- Engine rolling on, in its dead indifference, to grind me limb from limb”, was posited by Carlyle, and affirmed by Thomas Hardy. Hardy’s poems are generally perceived to be pessimistic and cynical in nature, wherein the existence of humans on earth by a supposed Divine authority is criticized and condemned.
Several of his poems, in particular, the Wessex collections highlight and illustrate Hardy’s dark and morbid perception of the world. These include “Hap”, “God’s Education” and “To An Unborn Pauper Child”, which all indicates Hardy’s view that the world was out to kill humans. “Hap” is identified as a Petreachan Sonnet which is pervaded with hopelessness, disappointment, depression, sorrow, despair and death. These thematic issues within themselves are reflective of the “dark” and “morbid” elements of the sonnet, as Hardy reveals his feeling of what life has become for him. Hardy commented that “people say I am almost morbidly imaginative”.
In other words issues explored in poems such as “Hap” are not typical human problems, but those which are thought to be as Blackmur puts it “obsessions, undisciplined compulsions and specious particularities”. As such the introductory line of the poem opens with the raw bitterness and anger felt by Hardy as he questions spirituality and its relevance or lack thereof to the existence of man. Hardy’s reference to the “vengeful God” who seemingly benefits from mere mortal displeasure is a thought that lends itself to morbidity, as the perceived omnipotent but king God, suffice to say deliberately influenced the woman (Emma) to leave Hardy.
Hardy’s” sorrow is [the Gods] my ecstasy” as his suffering intensifies it seems almost believable that God in truth and in fact induced Hardy’s suffering. However, the hopelessness which dominates Hardy’s overall emotions makes his points somewhat valid because his loss has forced him to blame someone else, especially since he refuses to share responsibility of destroying his first marriage. The dark elements of “Hap” are fully introduced with the presentation of Death as a common theme in the poem. Although Emma hasn’t physically died, the relationship between the two has.
This metaphorical death perpetuates Hardy’s need and desire to “bear it, clench myself and die”, especially as he attempts to detach himself from the situation. Hardy gains self- awareness as he resolves that the “ire unmerited”, though undeserving, which he experienced will be tolerated. This particular stanza pulls the sympathy of the readers as the same are forced to observe that God who is in control of the Universe, had the willpower to stop Emma from leaving and didn’t. This impresses upon the mind of the readers that, the God is untouched by human emotions. Half- cased in that a Powerfuller than I, had willed and meted me the tears I shed”. Throughout the poem darkness and hopelessness is the underlying theme and is extended in the last stanza in the poem with the images of death; “joy lies slain” and “dicing Time for gladness cast a moan” Emma’s departure literally kills Hardy’s joy and bliss. The sonnet becomes more melancholy as the readers are forced to think that withstanding the effort pumped into the relationship by Hardy it remained “unbloom[ed]”.
It is ironic however, that inspite of the anger Hardy feels he concludes that there is bliss to be found in the situation. In “God’s Education “yet again death, loss love, disappointment, regret which exacerbates with the passage of time is presented. Hardy in recounting the death of Emma has a subsequent argument with God over the apparent cruelty of his inconsiderate actions. Throughout the poem Hardy’s attempt to challenge God’s spiritual authority then causes him to suggest radical ideas of God’s profession of being omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent.
The very accusatory tone in the first stanza questions and undermines God’s credibility as “I saw him steal the light away that haunted in her eyes” implicate God as being a thief, taking away that which did not belong to him. The “I “pronoun as used by Hardy suggests that God is indeed guilty of the cruel act to which Hardy is a witness. According to Miguel Unamuno the underlying problem as it relates to the existence of God, is to” believe in a living and personal God, in an eternal and universal consciousness that knows and loves us, is to believe that the Universe exists for man”.
Hardy’s poems like “God’s Education” tends to reverberate this idea as it is suggested that it would be absurd to think that in our existence everything around us is ordained by God to see to our personal interests. Thereby Hardy attempts to highlight God’s cruelty in taking away the person he loves the most. “It went so gently none could say….. by and by”. Hardy’s warped and dark idea takes form as this line accuse God’s action as being premeditated, in that, it was an ongoing process that resulted in Emma’s death. Hardy condemns this sadistic God who enjoys causing him pain, but who is also brazen enough to kill Emma before his very eyes.
Hardy’s alliteration “cold control”, emphasizes how questionable God authority is, as God does everything to his liking without considering the repercussions for the society. This is a very dark and morbid perception of Hardy, which proves acceptable in the latter part of the poem in a conversation between him and God. According to Kenneth Marsden, “Truth instead of being a part of the divine order is a revelation, perhaps a product, of Time”. There in this poem is the passage of time being an enemy as it causes the death of those loved ones.
As pointed out by Hardy, God “carelessly away” with them as they are unimportant to God’s existence. Consistent with the Victorian Era Hardy argues the fact that he is placed in charge of the human life span and can cause death without proper or informed reasons. Hardy proposes that he would be a better judger of the world. This is especially so, since God appears not to omniscient “the thought is news to me……theirs is the teaching mind”. It is rather ironic that the all-knowing God is being taught by his subjects and even more ridiculous that he fails to understand why mankind would have a problem with his “modus operandi”.
The final poem which illustrates Thomas Hardy’s dark and morbid characteristics is that of “To An Unborn Pauper Child”. According to Kenneth Mardsen Hardy attempts to “freeze the present rather than to make it actual” . Hardy who is seemingly naturally cynical and pessimistic wrote this particular poem to convince an “unborn pauper child” to “sleep the long sleep”, although its time to enter the world was due. In Hardy’s estimation because the child is of poor parentage the child should simply not subject itself to its tragic fate, as the abject poverty which will undermine its growth, will cause intense hardship and pain.
The first stanza speaks to also the passage of time deemed the enemy of man; although it will take much effort for the child to be born, death is inevitable and will come to an unexpected time. Hardy posits that this is due to the fact that the Universe is not ruled by God but what he refers to as the ”imminent will”, a controlling doom that heaps “travails” on the “unborn pauper child”. Readers become plagued with a feeling of hopelessness and desolation as “laughters fail, and greetings die; hopes dwindle; yea, faith waste away and affections and enthusiasm numb”.
It becomes depressing for readers as birth which is typically associated with hope, rebirth and happiness now becomes aligned and perverted with grief and sorrow. Hardy as the speaker seems pessimistic about the future in the sense that he believed that the worst possible situation will happen and therefore, not to be born was the best option of the unborn. According to G. M. Young” Pessimism revolves in a closed circle” and so the positives in the society is always undermined by the negative. “ Had I the ear of wombed souls…….. then would I tell thee all I know”.
Hardy wishes that he was able to communicate with the unborn before they began to live their destiny, and when granted the choice to choose between life or death he would make the final decision, which would be for them to die. Hardy underlines the stark morbidity of the poem, as in reality his promise is a “vain vow” as the child is still “locked” in the womb. “Life’s pending plan” is as suggested pre-determined and cannot be altered or interrupted in any way. In the latter part of the poem the speaker Hardy comes to the realization that he is just as weak and bare as the unborn child as to live in tears and qualms is the common fate of man.
In the last stanza Hardy hopes that the child finds seldom joys inclusive of “health, love, friends”, which will make the future appear more optimistic. In conclusion, Hardy is indeed a dark and morbid poet and as such issues relating to those characteristics are found in most of his work, such as “Hap”, “God’s Education” and “To An Unborn Pauper Child”. However, his pessimism is not to be criticized leaving in isolation the effect of Emma’s departure and death on him.