Every Thomas Hardy post could be about what I didn’t know. Did I know that his first books of poems, Wessex Poems (1898), included his own illustrations? I did not. He had been an architect; of course he could draw.
He even had his own monogram signature, there in the lower right corner.
Nor did I know about Hardy’s satirical theodicy poems, although I might have guessed. His oldest poem that is always included with his best, the 1866 “Hap,” is on this theme.
These purblind Doomsters had as readily strown
Blisses about my pilgrimage as pain. (ll. 13-14, WP)
“Hap” is perhaps better described as ironic rather than satirical. The cluster of God poems in Poems of the Past and Present are satirical. Whenever God is a character with lines, Hardy is satirical:
-‘The Earth, sayest thou? The Human race?
By Me created? Sad its lot?
Nay I have no remembrance of such place:
Such world I fashioned not.’ (“The God-Forgotten,” ll. 5-9)
And when his memory is jogged, God claims that “’It lost my interest from the first,’” and anyways it’s your fault, mankind, if there has been a problem: “’All other orbs have kept in touch.’”
One of the best reasons to read a poetry book in its original form is to find these clusters of poems. With enough repetition, perhaps what the poet is saying will finally penetrate my inattentive head. So after “The God-Forgotten” comes “The Bedridden Peasant to an Unknowing God,” title self-explanatory, and then the apocalyptic “By the Earth’s Corpse,” in which God does remember that he made mankind, but regrets doing so:
‘As when, in Noë’s days,
I whelmed the plains with sea,
So at this last, when flesh
And herb but fossils be,
And, all extinct, their piteous dust
That I made Earth, and life, and man,
It repenteth me!’ (ll. 25-32)
The sequence continues for two more poems, ending with “To an Unborn Pauper Child”:
Breathe not, hid Heart: cease silently,
And though thy birth-hour beckons thee,
Sleep the long sleep:
The Doomsters heap
Travails and teens around us here,
And Time-wraiths turn our songsingings to fear. (ll. 1-6)
The Doomsters have returned, joined by Time-wraiths. Hardy denied that he was an atheist, and I almost believe him. He believed, to some degree, in the Doomsters, in powers beyond our understanding, indifferent or even hostile to man. He may have meant all this as metaphor, but one can believe in metaphors.
Here is Hardy’s idea of a Christmas poem:
While I watch the Christmas blaze
Paint the room with ruddy rays,
Something makes my vision glide
To the frosty scene outside.
There, to reach a rotting berry,
Toils a thrush, - constrained to very
Dregs of food by sharp distress,
Taking such with thankfulness.
Why, O starving bird, when I
One day’s joy would justify,
And put misery out of view,
Do you make me notice you! (TL)
I am not going to develop the idea, but I might note that the observer here is not God but the author, and that Hardy himself created a world and its people, and that he is the one who heaped “travails and teens” upon them when he just as well could have “strown blisses.”