Poetry Blog #8: Thomas Hardy
So far we have gone over two clergymen poets in our blogs. I have a couple more pastor/priest poets that I want to talk about, but I thought I would write today about a poet who stands in contrast to Isaac Watts, John Donne, George Herbert, and Charles Wesley, and all those other pious gentlemen of the past. The poet is Thomas Hardy, a self-proclaimed agnostic (a person who says that he does not know if God exists). Many poets in the days of yore and in our present day, like Hardy, have been or are professedly agnostic or atheist. Instead of writing about God’s care and providence, these poets stress the meaninglessness of man’s life, especially as regards his suffering. In one of his poems, for instance, titled “Hap,” Hardy presents the view that there is no reason for man’s sorrow and pain on this earth. Life is ruled by chance, and chance proves itself to be something horribly sinister.
Let us look more closely at another work by Thomas Hardy, titled “Convergence of the Twain.” In this strange poem, there are two actors—an iceberg and the luxury liner Titanic. Together the two produce one of the most celebrated disasters in human history. The Titanic was crossing the Atlantic from England to America. Many of the passengers were very wealthy and had taken the trip for pleasure. But unexpectedly on April 15, 1912 the ship collided with an iceberg (Hardy puts it this way: the “two halves” met in one “august event.”). 1,517 passengers died because an iceberg and a ship—once safe, once so far away from each other—were brought together. But how did it happen? What brought them together to cause such havoc? The poem answers the question: the Spinner of Years. The last three stanzas of “Convergence of the Twain” follow:
Alien they seemed to be;
No mortal eye could see
The intimate welding of their later history,
Or sign that they were bent
By paths coincident
On being anon twin halves of one august event,
Till the Spinner of the Years
Said “Now!” And each one hears,
And consummation comes, and jars two hemispheres.
The poem is certainly not a mood lifter. It views the universe as a sinister place, controlled by some dark force that Hardy calls “the Spinner of Years." Like a spider, the imagery suggests, fate or chance captures us in its web. We flew into it unawares and become its fatal captives.
Although a reader might not like the meaning of “Convergence of the Twain” or any of his other poems, Hardy had an unquestioned talent in poetry and is still revered and studied today as a major English player in the literary field. But Thomas Hardy was more than just a great poet. He also wrote great novels. In fact, Thomas Hardy’s novels, such as Far from the Madding Crowd, The Mayor of Casterbridge, and Tess of the d’Ubervilles, are said to be some of the best ever written in the English language. That makes Hardy the only author, as far as I know, whom a college student can study both in a course on 20th-century poetry and in a course on the Victorian novel. In this way, Hardy was unique.