Thomas Hardy as A Poet - Novelist

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Introduction

      Hardy began his literary career as a poet, he ended it in the same capacity. Poetry was his first and last love. He was a poet turned into a novelist. He was a mixture of the poet and the novelist: if there is in him the instinct of the novelist to tell stories, there is also in him the imagination of the poet to give his stories a poetic color, and he combines successfully these two in a harmonious whole to keep his narratives at once as close to natural life and as close to poetry as conditions would allow. His novel is half-way to poems. Simply because Hardy, the novelist wants to give a full-length portrait of human life so he requires the space and flexibility of prose narrative to do this.

      The poet, in him, takes note of nothing that he can't feel emotive and he writes in a higher emotional key than most of the novelists do. He is stirred by what is momentous and moving and picturesque in life. He seizes every opportunity that his subjects afford for poetic treatment; gets every ounce of picturesque value from that country life which is its subject—from its (i) natural beauty or its (ii) historic traditions and associations. Furthermore, his strain of poetry shows itself not just in (iii) atmosphere alone, but in the (iv) actual turn of the action also. The poetic element is revealed in his conception of (v) certain characters. His very (vi) style shows him as a poet.

Poetic Element in the Treatment of Nature

      It requires no thesis to bring out that while Hardy is describing nature, he is pure and simple a poet, only he is writing in prose. Hardy follows the methods of Thomson in nature description with quite facility. His landscapes have a 'deep penetrating power'. A great poet of nature he freely displays an exceptional gift for description. The descriptions of Tess's two valleys, Blackmoor Vale and the Vale of the Var—where the Waters were clear as the pure River of Life shown to the Evangelist, rapid as the shadow of a cloud, with pebbly shallows that prattled to the sky— are gloriously good, but too long to quote.

His Most Beloved Aspects of Nature

      It is in many of his nature descriptions that we realize that Hardy, the poet is responsible for the pessimistic effect that is often felt in his novels. He loves to describe the elementary, grand and sad aspects of Nature; the land which appeals to him most is that which is freest from human dwellings—he loves to describe the gloomy vastness of Egdon Heath in which everything vanishes. When he shows his love and sympathy for the animate section of nature, it often becomes charged with deep pathos, when the sorrows of the animal world are shown to be not less than our own, in proportion to their capacity for feeling.

Poetic Treatment of Historical Elements in His Novels

      While dealing with his Wessex or historic traditions and associations, he is again revealed as a poet. Hardy like a poet is fascinated by rural life, country humor and traditional customs. His imagination is also fired by ancient stories, ballads and superstitions. When his imagination is excited by history, he has got the power of a poet to evoke a past period. But his historic imagination embraces only a narrow region of Wessex and a short period of the Napoleonic age.

Atmosphere

      His strain of poetry shows itself in the atmosphere of his novels as well. Here, the poet in Hardy creates usually a sad scene, works out the sad atmospheric effect on his characters and the readers feel the prevailing melancholic effect prevailing in the novel.

Poetic Element in Episodes

      However, sometimes he invents such an episode out of his imagination or gives such an actual turn to the drama as compel us to admire his poetic imagination. The episode of Angel's walking in his sleep and carrying Tess to the Priory, cannot but have been invented by a poet. When Tess is in the very romantic Valley of the Great Dairies, the idea of making her fall in love with Angel Clare, to give a proper turn to his story, cannot but have originated in a poetic mind.

Poetry and His Certain Characters

      Poetry, holds sovereign sway over the souls of Hardy's certain people. The unreasonable, almost violent and cruel ideal of womanhood that belongs to Angel Clare and that ruins the lives of Tess and himself, and creates a pessimistic effect that we strongly feel, is essentially poetic in appearance, nature, and power. Jude Fawley's dream of scholarship and Sue's conception of the conjugal tie are also poetic. In fact, many of the protagonists are conceived of by the poet in him.

      If we consider his art of narration, we understand that it is really poetic. Hardy's novels are visual novels; he has great power of visualization. It is the ability of a poet to make us whatever we read. He constructs his novel in a series of scenes. We are always told what we are looking at. His technique, oddly enough, is that of the modem director of films. We watch the story. The scene opens we take it in with our eyes, then somebody begins to speak, and the action gradually unfolds itself. And when the plot rises to its crisis Hardy's visualizing power burns all the brighter.

Conclusion

      Hardy achieves the extraordinary vivid visualization mainly in two ways—first, by his sheer ability to picture, the scene completely, and secondly, by his extensive use of arresting and poetic similes. It is by his power of visualization that Hardy is able to establish the atmosphere of his world quickly and so certainly. Moreover, this visualization helps to keep our interests engaged. Though simple, grave and deliberate is the prose of Hardy, yet it is many times the prose of a poet in close contact with things, a creature of tangibilities in the imaginative handling of abstract ideas. There is indeed a Keats like quality, found here and there i.e., when he speaks of Tess coming down, on a hot summer afternoon from her nap to the silent kitchen and yawning 'like a sunned caf and of Eustacia Vye, walking along a cliff, and laughing so that the sun shone into her mouth, as into an open, red tulip.

      So the view, that in Hardy's novels there is present not only a novelist but also a poet who is responsible for the pessimistic effect that is often felt in his novels, is quite appropriate.

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