I recently read the Selected Poems of Thomas Hardy. Highly worthwhile read. He’s an incredible poet, writing metered poetry in simple, emotional language, us. Now I’d been somewhat aware that a lot of his poetry was inspired by the death of his wife, Emma. But at some point I started to get a weird vibe from the poetry, so I looked her up. Err…apparently they had a terrible relationship! She lived in the attic, and they almost never spoke! And she bitterly regretted the marriage, and thought herself his social and artistic superior!
It’s an incredible story. Going back and rereading the poems with this backstory, you see all the hints of his regret, the way he and she had allowed a passionate youthful romance to fall apart. For example, here’s a lyric where he goes back to where he met her, in Cornwall”
Yes: I have re-entered your olden haunts at last;From “After The Journey”. Hardy, Thomas. Hardy: Selected Poems . Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Through the years, through the dead scenes I have tracked you;
What have you now found to say of our past—
Scanned across the dark space wherein I have lacked you?
Summer gave us sweets, but autumn wrought division?
Things were not lastly as firstly well
With us twain, you tell?
But all’s closed now, despite Time’s derision.
Haunting! I don’t know. There might be something to this poetry thing. Shit, I never want to be in the position where I’m looking back and thinking, “How did I waste our love.”
There’s another poem, for instance, where he laments her end and wonders why they never sought to recapture the romance of early days
You were the swan-necked one who rodeFrom “The Going”. Hardy, Thomas. Hardy: Selected Poems . Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Along the beetling Beeny Crest,
And, reining nigh me,
Would muse and eye me,
While Life unrolled us its very best. Why, then, latterly did we not speak,
Did we not think of those days long dead,
And ere your vanishing strive to seek
That time’s renewal? We might have said,
“In this bright spring weather
We’ll visit together
Those places that once we visited.”
I dunno. I think it’s very easy to be cynical and think, “Oh, this guy didn’t really love this woman. He needed her to be dead so that he could idealize her and hold her memory dear.” Maybe there’s an element of truth there. I don’t know! I wasn’t friends with old Thomas Hardy! But that doesn’t change the fact that these lines give me chills.
What I’ve noticed about poetry is that oftentimes there’s a complex thought encoded in the poet–something that’s slightly too involved to be said in a sentence, but which is nonetheless not particularly mysterious or inexplicable. Like, yeah, we get it: “You’ll miss her when she’s gone” is something we’ve all heard. But it’s so true! You will miss her when she’s gone!