«Introduction..2 - 10 Chapter One: Evangelical Principles and Hardy’s Fiction.11 - 36 Chapter Two: Nature, the Law and Christian Ethics in The ...»
In line 67 of “A Plaint to Man” the poet equates unbelief with gloom while faith is described as “gleam”. Hardy’s desire to retain the “gleam” that apparently accompanies faith is expressed in “Darkling Thrush”, “The Oxen”, “In a Whispering Gallery” and “To Life” amongst other poems. He is loath to relinquish faith, but acknowledges that he cannot subscribe to Christianity like the “bright believing band” in “The Impercipient”. However, the poem “Surview” indicates that even at the age of eighty-one, in spite of his professed agnosticism, Hardy’s philosophy of life retains recognisably Christian elements. The poem serves as an example of Hardy’s tendency to judge life, also his own, according to Christian principles. It takes the form of a dialogue between Hardy and his inner man and is a reflection on the Biblical principles of truth and justice (Philippians 4.8), long-suffering love and the all encompassing importance of charity (Corinthians 13.4, 7, 13). Hardy valued these principles and incorporated them in his theory of meliorism and in the characters of Angel Clare’s father and Tess. Yet, on measuring his own life against them he admits to falling short.
His inner voice chides: “‘Whatsoever was just you were slack to see;/ Kept not things lovely and pure in view’” (9). This is significant because of its bearing on Hardy’s creative output. The poet acknowledges that he has failed to recognise and dwell on the good in life.
As an artist committed to honesty and realism, Hardy wishes to face the negative side of life without flinching. This is clearly expressed in “In Tenebris II”: “if way to the Better there be, it exacts a full look at the worst” (18 - 19). However, it appears that he has become inexorably trapped in the quagmire of the image of “the Worst” and is unable to dislodge himself and open his mind to see the other side. The final stanza of “In Tenebris I” epitomises Hardy’s
Black is night’s cope;
But death will not appal One who, past doubtings all, Waits in unhope.
An illustration of Hardy’s propensity for dwelling on the worst and losing sight of the best can be demonstrated by comparing the lives of Tess and Jude with that of Job. Hardy’s frequent references to Job, the proverbial figure of woe, in connection with both these protagonists invites such a comparison. Tess’s and Jude’s lives follow the pattern of Job’s with regard to suffering, but not with regard to the end. They suffer and then die unhappy,
whereas Job, having endured indescribable suffering, receives a double blessing from God:
“the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before” (Job 42.10) and “the Lord blessed the latter end of Job more than the beginning” (Job 42.12). He dies old and full of days, unlike Tess and Jude who die young and unfulfilled. Hardy’s pessimism forges his vision of life on earth as a sojourn in the Valley of Humiliation where all the earth is fated to “Groan in their Stotko 54 bondage till oblivion supervene” (“To Meet, or Otherwise” ). In “Surview”, a poem of retrospection in old age, he expresses regret that he disregarded “things lovely and pure”.
“The Self-Unseeing” indicates that the poet seems to recognise that happiness eludes him partially due to his habit of dwelling on things gloomy. Hardy recalls happy times
as a child and acknowledges that he was unable to appreciate the happiness at the time:
Childlike, I danced in a dream;
Blessings emblazoned that day;
Everything glowed with a gleam;
Yet we were looking away! (9 - 2) Only as an old man does he become aware of what was good in his life. This is true too of his relationship with his first wife Emma. Their marriage was fraught with tension and unhappiness (Gittings 492). It was only after Emma’s death that Hardy released a stream of poems of regret honouring the love that once was.
Hardy’s inherent predisposition toward gloom and depression coupled with his extraordinarily sensitive nature deeply affect his perception and experience of life. Happiness and contentment appear to be the most fragile and transient of conditions that are doomed to be short-lived, as depicted in the lives of Tess and Jude. The themes of unappreciated valuable moments in life, thwarted desire and hope “unbloomed” are prominent in “After the Visit”.
The poet dwells on the imperfection of his perception of life, his blindness to the “charm in the changes of day” until the moment of revelation:
And I saw the large luminous living eyes Regard me in fixed inquiring-wise As those of a soul that weighed, Scarce consciously, The eternal question of what Life was, And why we were there, and by whose strange laws That which mattered most could not be. (17 - 24) These questions recur repeatedly in Hardy’s work. Tess and Jude suffer under the same laws that deny them a relationship with their soul mates. Here the poet departs from the view that a person’s fate is determined by chance. “Strange laws” are responsible for thwarted happiness. Thus Hardy’s preoccupation with the law that thwarts happiness also surfaces in his poetry. The likelihood of achieving even a measure of happiness or joy in a lifetime is practically non-existent.
In “Hap” joy is not only denied, it is brutally murdered: “How arrives it joy lies slain,/ And why unblooms the best hope ever sown?” (10 - 11). Hardy’s negative philosophy of life is reflected in his language usage. He frequently creates new words by negating the common form. For example, hope “unblooms”. This image is very powerful. It suggests that the life force of the blossom that brings forth new growth in spring is not cut off; it is aborted before it can develop. The “best” hope, one that by its superior quality should have been fit to survive in Darwinian terms, is denied existence. The “purblind Doomsters,” Crass Casualty and Time Stotko 55 purposely obstruct the poet’s chances of happiness. He despairs that they “had as readily strown/ Blisses about my pilgrimage as pain” (13 - 14), lamenting the unfairness that by chance he is chosen as a vessel for misery on this earth. Perhaps Hardy sees himself bound by the same law that governs Tess and Jude. The innocent are destined to suffer “unmerited” and are powerless to influence their own destinies.
In the search for the cause of pain, Hardy suggests that it would be easier to bear if it were due to the Schadenfreude of God. Then martyr-like in the fact that he endures pain “unmerited” he could “clench” himself “and die”. It would be acceptable to him if “a Powerfuller than I/ Had willed and meted me the tears I shed” (7 - 8). But, it is “not so”. He seems to shy away from the possibility that God is purposely malevolent.
“Hap” is reputedly one of Hardy’s most pessimistic poems. In his commentary on this poem, Bailey raises the issue of pessimism and quotes Hardy in response to the accusation
that he is a pessimist saying:
“if it is pessimism to think, with Sophocles, that ‘not to have been born is best,’ then I do not reject the designation. [...] But my pessimism, if pessimism it be, does not involve the assumption that the world is going to the dogs, and that Ahriman is winning all along the line. On the contrary, my practical philosophy is distinctly meliorist. What are my books but one plea against ‘man’s inhumanity to man’ — to woman — and to the lower animals?” (180).
Hardy claims that he does not believe that Ahriman is winning the battle of good and evil, but the evidence to the contrary abounds in his novels and poems. Ahriman is a Middle Eastern mythological figure who represents the personification of the devil and is the God of darkness. Hardy’s mature fiction and much of his poetry reflects Darkness triumphing over light.
Hardy’s assertion that his work reflects “man’s inhumanity to man” is problematic. A close reading of his novels reveals that the fate of Hardy’s characters cannot unequivocally be attributed to the evil actions of other men and women. The evil that befalls them can be seen as a direct result of the operation of a universal law and malicious turns of fate. Sue defines this law as “ something external to us which says, ‘You shan’t!’ First it said, ‘You shan’t learn!’ Then it said, ‘You shan’t labour!’ and now it says, ‘You shan’t love!’” (Jude 355).
Hardy’s protagonists are subject to this law which determines their pilgrimage on earth. If Hardy had been able to believe in salvation, he could have provided his characters with a mercy seat. Since this was not the case, their fates unfold in a spiral of misery culminating in annihilation.
The comforting firm texture of the earth for the Christian who rests in the belief that there is forgiveness of sin and life everlasting becomes quicksand for the unbeliever who sinks into an abyss under the burden of sin with no way out except death. Hardy himself was prey to this sentiment. In “In Tenebris II” he expresses regret that he did not die while he was still a child and lived in happy ignorance of “the groan of creation”. “Then might the Voice that is law have said ‘Cease!’ and the ending have come” (27 - 28). Other poems like “To an Stotko 56 Unborn Pauper Child” echo this view as do the characters Tess, Jude, Little Father Time and Mrs Yeobright.
In view of the doom and gloom that pervades Hardy’s writing it is difficult to accept his statement that his philosophy is “distinctly meliorist”. Part of Hardy’s meliorist theory involves the operation of free will and the “equilibrium” of “the mighty necessitating forces” (CP 558).
Hardy states in “Apology to Late Lyrics” that free will is “conjecturally possessed by organic life”. There is then, a possibility that it might exist. In his poetry Hardy expands his ideas concerning free will. “He Wonders about Himself” introduces the concept that the individual will was part of the Immanent Will and could perhaps be used to function as a force for good
and affect change:
Part is mine of the general Will, Cannot my share in the sum of sources Bend a digit in the poise of forces, And a fair desire fulfil? (9 - 12) In “God’s Education” the idea that the will of a human being might be able to influence God is developed further. God reflects that although He is the Master, men have the “teaching mind” and He can learn from them. “The Lacking Sense” describes Nature as the creative force which harms man and the earth, albeit unwittingly. The poet’s advice is “Assist her where thy creaturely dependence can or may/ For thou art her clay” (40 - 42), thus placing humankind in the role of an ameliorating force with superior knowledge to Nature.
There does not appear to be substantiation for these theories in Hardy’s work. A search for a character that influences the Immanent Will through the exercise of his or her free will is in vain. This study attempts to show that Hardy’s characters do not show any signs of possessing a free will and that in Hardy’s universe there is very little likelihood of the “mighty necessitating forces” ever being in equilibrium, which leaves humankind doomed and damned. In other words, Hardy’s work shows that evolutionary meliorism through free will or humanity using knowledge to influence life is a utopian concept which can possibly never be attained.
“The Year’s Awakening” is a poem that raises questions about the workings of Nature, and the knowledge inherent in nature whereby migrant birds are able to find their way across the earth, and plants can recognise the seasons and respond accordingly. The speaker asks repeatedly “How do you know?” He is seeking the source of knowledge which he recognises in Nature and desires for himself. But like all the other questions the poet puts out into the universe, no answer is forthcoming. None of the poet’s enquiries brings him a step closer to the knowledge he is seeking. Knowledge in Hardy’s world is a double edged sword. On the one hand he sees it as fatal because with knowledge comes the consciousness of suffering. “Before Life and After” expresses the thought that knowledge makes man vulnerable and opens him to experiencing sorrow and pain. These were absent
before knowledge was available:
25 September 2003 http:/www.deliriumsrealm.com/mythology/Ahriman.asap Stotko 57 A time there was [...] Before the birth of consciousness, When all went well.
None suffered sickness, love or loss, (1 - 5) This “time” of innocence or ignorance possibly refers to the time in the Garden of Eden before Adam and Eve had eaten of the tree of knowledge. Genesis 3.5 states that the result of eating of the tree of knowledge is that “your eyes shall be opened and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” Eating of the tree of knowledge is the first sin and brings with it banishment, punishment and death. The condition of joy prior to sin described in the first
stanza is lost with the advent of knowledge or “consciousness”:
But the disease of feeling germed, And primal rightness took the tinct of wrong;
Ere nescience shall be reaffirmed How long, how long? (13 - 16) There is a Biblical quality to line 14 suggesting that innocence is perverted through knowledge or feeling, allowing evil to prevail.
In this poem the poet yearns for a reversal of knowledge and a return of nescience, which contradicts his wish for the knowledge that will furnish him with the answers to the existential questions that plague his soul. On the one hand ignorance is bliss, yet on the
other, lack of knowledge is a handicap especially in spiritual matters as is evident in “A Sign Seeker”. He looks for signs that will aid his spiritual knowledge and asserts that he:
[...] panted for response. But none replies;