Thomas Hardy – The Poems
By Gillian Steinberg
Palgrave Macmillan – £16.99
”W.H. Auden, who claims Hardy as one of his favourite poets and earliest literary influences, writes, ”What I valued most in Hardy, then, as I still do, was his hawk’s vision, his way of looking at life from a very great height… To see the individual life related not only to the local social life of its time, but to the whole of human history, life on earth, the stars, gives one both humility and self-confidence.””
(from the Chapter, ‘War and its Casualties’)
It’s always a more than rewarding pleasure to read all about the work of one’s favourite authors, especially when the actual reading entails discovering and finding out oodles of things one didn’t already know.
Such is most definitely, if not didactically the case with regards this most well researched and analytical of book’s by Gillian Steinberg. Not that I’ve read many analytical texts on Thomas Hardy, particularly when it comes to his poetry; yet Thomas Hardy – The Poems, most decidedly piqued the partially subliminal stasis of a dusty knowledge learned many moons ago.
In fact it has done so to such a degree, I now feel compelled to go ahead and re-read a number of his works. So to describe this book as thematically inspiring and a pleasure to read is, perhaps, selling it a little short. Reason being, those already familiar with Hardy’s work are surely well versed in the mighty influential and intentional depth-charge of his humanity. I for one, was alerted to this very issue from the very first minute I started reading the brilliant Tess of the d’Urbervilles – a sublime tango of literary poignant pathos, if ever there was one.
Yet to have one’s investment in such deeply held thinking succinctly reiterated, is, as mentioned, just a small measure of this book’s potentially long-standing inspiration.
There are a number examples of said reiteration scattered throughout these 218 pages, although one of my favourite’s is where (in the Concluding Discussion of ‘Poet as Storyteller’) Steinberg writes: ”Hardy the storyteller is not a common voyeur but someone who wants to understand others and offer momentary windows into their lives. By voicing the concerns and telling the stories of the voiceless, he finds fundamental humanity in each of his characters. The pathos of his often powerless, unfortunate, or mistreated characters emphasizes the many ways that they are trapped in their lives and their locations, but they are seldom treated patronizingly or with condescension. Instead, the tragedies that beset them are not particularly different from those that Hardy believes beset everyone, and their experiences only differ from those of more empowered characters in their details, not in the depth of their feelings.”
Covering and dissecting nearly all aspects of Hardy’s poetry – from the aforesaid ‘Poet as Storyteller’ to his nigh infatuation with ‘Ghosts,’ from the opening quote of ‘War and its Casualties’ to ‘God, Man, and the Natural World, Thomas Hardy – The Poems covers a very wide terrain of exceedingly well considered analysis.
To be sure, the Analysing Texts series is ”dedicated to one clear belief: that we can all enjoy, understand and analyse literature for ourselves, provided we know how to do it.”
If nothing else, this book not only provides us with the ”know how,” it most resoundingly provides us with the relentlessly colourful, if not heartfelt luminosity, of who I consider to be one of Britain’s finest ever writers and poets. Suffice to say, this remains somewhat subjective when, in ‘Critical Views,’ the authoress states: ”From beginning to end the poetry of Thomas Hardy is the very voice of pessimism, but it is the pessimism of Shakespeare’s tragedies, a pessimism so profound that it goes down to the depths where constructions begins.” Either way, this most readable of books most certainly stands its analytical ground, thus making it both refreshing and a pleasure to read.