Thomas Hardy was born on 2nd June 1840 in a place known as Dorchester in England. His father was of the French nobility and a master builder by profession. His mother was from the Yeoman class and possessed a keen interest in literature. Hardy's early were in history, the Bible, nature, correct speech and good manners (Louise, 1). Hardy attended Dorchester school but had little interest in his studies while he was there. He was however taught French and Latin at home whereby he first experimented with the writing of verses which made him abandon his earlier passion in architecture. Following advice from his peers, Hardy who had started writing novels for a living abandoned it and began writing and composing poems.
Between the years 1869 to 1890, Hardy had written a total of 60 poems all of which carried various thematic concerns and use of few stylistic devices. Hardy had thus introduced himself as a Victorian writer and would go along to achieve greater feats (Tholoniat, Grafe & Estanove, 1). Overall, Hardy's poems have carried a general tone, a constant quality of verse and the same form (Louise, 3). He has received a lot of influence from the Greek dramatists, Shakespeare, Shelley, Goethe, and Schopenhauer. The subjects he has broached in many of his poems are inclusive of war, death, memories of his first wife, nature and ghosts and phantoms (Louise, 4).
In terms of technique, Hardy has employed the use ordinary speech as his diction and has shown immense skills in rhyming. He has also used vivid description, varied forms and has been often accused of using a language that was a bit harsh than as compared to other poets (Louise, 4). His poetry is, however, sincere as it aligns itself to his philosophical beliefs. It is also able to stimulate and arouse thoughts for its intended audience and it boasts of having a broadened vision (Louise, 6). Besides, Hardy has written poems which belong to the permanent order of aesthetic values. They are both attractive and informative.
The essay is, therefore, seeking to highlight on the thematic concerns and the stylistic devices that Thomas has used in a number of his poems. The essay will also examine two of Hardy's infamous poems, "Ah, Are you digging on my Grave?'' and "The To be forgotten".
The poem "Ah, Are you digging on my Grave?" is a masterpiece that is uniquely concerned with death and the possibility of an after-life (Contributors, 1). The poem speaks of the romantic connection between death and remembrance. The primal theme is death, which is also evident in a number of his poems. In the poem, the persona is expressing different emotions following her demise and wonders as to who remembers her.
In the first stanza, "Ah, are you digging on my grave" My loved one?-planting rue? --No; yesterday he went to wed; one of the brightest wealth has bred; 'It cannot hurt her now,' he said; that I should not be true." (Clark, 363-372).
The mention of a loved one paints the picture of a woman who has been dead for some time. At the present, there seems to be some movement on her grave. The woman thus hopeful is inquiring whether the person who is digging on the grave is her past lover. She is also hopeful that he had remembered her and has gone to plant flowers also rue. But alas! The reality of the matter was that her lover has moved on with his life. As a matter of fact, he had a wedding ceremony where he had married a beautiful woman. Besides, he was confident that the dead woman would not be disappointed as she was not present. From the above stanza, Hardy passes across the theme of death and remembrance as delusional (Contributors, 1). No one actually has the time to remember dead people. He says that these are fictional and empty stories that people make up for themselves and they are futile.
"The To be forgotten poem also addresses the futility of life as the persona seeks to find out whether the dead are at peace wherever they are. The poem voices the dead who harbor fears of facing a second death. A second death according to them is the kind of death experience when they become completely forgotten like the ancestors. They quote "they count as quite forgot; they are as men who have existed not; theirs is a loss past loss of fitful breath; it is the second death. The dead also lay a claim of being blessed because of the few beloved members that do remember them. They are however skeptical of how long they would be remembered as they are sure that at some point, they would become oblivion (Clark, 363-372). Therefore, the theme of death takes precedence and for Thomas Hardy the poet, memories equally die with the person. Tragedy, the after-life, and death form the basis of his work. The point that Hardy is seeking to drive home is that no amount of love or hate is able to outlast death.
In general, both poems are show-casing the stylistic ability of the poet as they have catchy titles and tantalizing first stanzas. The two poems also explore ironic tendencies since both of them have scenarios which are opposite of the society's expectations. For "Ah, are you digging on my grave, It is ironical for a person to be seen digging on a dead person's grave. The first reaction and thought many would have is that of excavation. The poem "To be forgotten equally raises the same concerns. The first stanza speaks of a person who was standing near tombs having heard "a small sad sound". Besides, the title is equally ironic as the general view of most people is that the dead should not be forgotten, yet Hardy uses the ideology. The two poems also strike a vital cord as the ironical aspect of excavating the dead is explored and the dead being forgotten too. Next, Hardy's poems are playing the vital role of arousing the audience to question whether death signifies an end to all consciousness and if people retain consciousness after they die? All these are ironical aspects that Thomas Hardy uses in many of his poems.
Another important part of Hardy's poems are the structural patterns his poems adapt. The poems are written in a sequential formula for the purposes of preparing the reader for an untimely and unsettling ending (Benziman, 63-75). Hardy takes his readers towards a downward spiral of sequence and events. The two poems are evidence of this pattern. "Ah, are you digging on my grave?" shows the dead woman moving through different stages of disappointment then a flicker of hope then disappointment once more. After finding out as above stated that it was not her husband digging on her grave, she guesses that it could be her kin. She is however disappointed to find out that her relatives also do not care for her anymore. They sit and ponder "what good would the planting of flowers do?" It was not possible to bring her back as death like gin would not free her spirit and allow her into the land of the living.
To this point, Hardy has still not introduced the identity of the gravedigger and the dead woman continues to make guesses. She is exhaustively told that even her enemy was the person concerned. The enemy too had moved on. The dead woman gives up and asks to be given the identity of the gravedigger. She rejoices when she learns that it was a dog that was digging her grave. However as the dead woman is rejoicing and voicing the priceless dog and its fidelity, she once more gets a rude shock. Her dog did not remember her; it was looking for a place where it could hide its bone. To make it worse, the dog had landed on her grave by mistake. The dog sees her grave as a place for hiding bones and does not associate feelings of love and affection towards it. The poem thus has a depression sequence of events that eventually lead one to a sad ending (Benziman, 63-75).
The same is correct of "The To be forgotten" as the poem goes through the familiar sad-depressing-hopeful then depressing ending. The first stanza as stated earlier involves the concern if the dead are alright. The dead respond in the second stanza that they have no problem with the place where they inhabited at the moment. Their problem spelled out the impending second death danger which they did not know how to evade. Hope comes for them when they say that at least some people remembered them still but were not sure it would be for a long duration. The poem ends on a sad note with the persona mourning after the life they once enjoyed (Clark, 363-372).
For both poems, the structure is the same. Thomas Hardy has adopted a workable model that has set him apart from other poets. His structure is unique and does not waiver. He is able to prepare the minds of his readers before the tragic ending of his personas happens. Here Hardy has broken away from the norm but the structure does promote different emotional persuasions which as a result have led to the promotion of certain themes and styles.
The theme hereby deals with fidelity and infidelity as one of the themes that are created through Hardy's structural composition. Fidelity entails being honest and faithful to one's interests or wishes especially if the person in question is not present. Thomas Hardy chooses to show how fidelity is lacking in the society. In "The To be forgotten" poem, the same is true as the omniscient voice of the dead affirms that the living would not care for their memories after a while. Hardy is thus seeking to affirm in both poems of the various types of masks people wear (Contributors, 1). The theme of fidelity ascertains to the pretense that he wishes to expose. Taking a close look at Hardy's marriage life, one can almost attribute the need for him to employ this theme in his works.
Hardy's work also introduces satire as a stylistic device. Satire is generally defined as the criticisms of a certain person, character or behavior with the need of showing the foolishness that abounds. Satire can also show how ridiculous a situation is. Hardy uses satire in most of his works as is evidenced by the two poems above. It is satirical how both poems have a similar approach and themes that are alike. Satire is seen through the omniscient voice used by Hardy in both poems. In "Ah, are you digging on my grave?" satire is seen from the dead woman's voice. How can the dead be consumed with the living? Of what value will that achieve for them? Hence it is a ridiculous and a satirical approach. Next, there is "The To be forgotten" poem. The satire is that it is ridiculous how fast people tend to move on after burying their dead. Their memory costs them melancholic moments so they prefer to forget the person altogether. Hardy thus achieves the use of satire in his works.
In conclusion, Thomas Hardy is a classic example of a poet with a conscience judging via the themes and stylistic devices he manages to expound in his works. The themes of death and remembrance, fidelity and infidelity constitute a bulk of his poems as is shown above. In addition, the two powerful styles of irony and satire have made an impact in his works also. His structural pattern is also unique as is explored above. Thomas Hardy is easily described as the modern-day Shakespeare. He is a king in the poetic world in his own right.
Benziman, Galia. "Spectres that Grieve": The Dead Speak." Thomas Hardy's Elegiac Prose and Poetry. Palgrave Macmillan, London, 2018. 63-75.
Clark, Indy. "Thomas Hardy." Victorian Poetry 54.3 (2016): 363-372.
Contributors, Website. "Ah, Are You Digging on My Grave Themes." Beaming Notes, Website Contributors, 22 May 2018, beamingnotes.com/2018/05/07/ah-are-you-digging-on-my-grave-themes/.
Louise, Barker Abby. The Poetry of Thomas Hardy. Boston University, 2018, hdl.handle.net/2144/5461.
Tholoniat, Yann. "Adrian Grafe and Laurence Estanove, eds., Thomas Hardy, Poet: New Perspectives. Jefferson (NC): MacFarland, 2015, 224 p.+ vii. ISBN 978-0-7864-9538-2." Cahiers victoriens et edo...
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