As I have noted before, Edward Thomas knew English poetry backwards and forwards. Not surprisingly, therefore, his comments on particular poets are very perceptive. When it comes to the poetry of Thomas Hardy, Thomas (as is the case with anyone who reads the poems) is bound to remark upon Hardy's pessimism. Who wouldn't? Consider, for instance, "Hap," the fourth poem in Hardy's first collection. With its references to "Crass Casualty," "dicing Time," and "purblind Doomsters," the poem establishes a theme that occurs again and again in Hardy's poetry.
In his review of Hardy's 1909 collection Time's Laughingstocks and Other Poems, Thomas memorably acknowledges the conventional wisdom about Hardy's pessimism: "The book contains ninety-nine reasons for not living." (Despite his melancholy, Thomas did have a sly and dry sense of humor. One can see why he and Robert Frost got along so well together.) But Thomas wisely recognizes that there is much more to Hardy:
"The book contains ninety-nine reasons for not living. Yet it is not a book of despair. It is a book of sincerity . . . Mr. Hardy looks at things as they are, and what is still more notable he does not adopt the genial consolation that they might be worse, that in spite of them many are happy, and that the unhappy live on and will not die. His worst tragedies are due as much to transient and alterable custom as to the nature of things. He sees this, and he makes us see it. The moan of his verse rouses an echo that is as brave as a trumpet."
Edward Thomas, review of Time's Laughingstocks and Other Poems, in The Daily Chronicle (December 7 1909), reprinted in Edna Longley (editor), A Language Not To Be Betrayed: Selected Prose of Edward Thomas (1981).
Hardy's poem "Going and Staying" is, I think, a good illustration of the point that Thomas makes. It first appeared in the inaugural issue of The London Mercury (edited by J. C. Squire, the bane of T. S. Eliot and other "Modernists") in November of 1919 as follows:
Going and Staying
The moving sun-shapes on the spray,
The sparkles where the brook was flowing,
Pink faces, plightings, moonlit May,
These were the things we wished would stay;
But they were going.
Seasons of blankness as of snow,
The silent bleed of a world decaying,
The moan of multitudes in woe,
These were the things we wished would go;
But they were staying.
One would think that, after making these jolly observations, Hardy had said enough. But he could not leave well enough alone. Hence, when the poem was published in book form in 1922, Hardy (a clever lad at the age of 82) added a third stanza:
Then we looked closelier at Time,
And saw his ghostly arms revolving
To sweep off woeful things with prime,
Things sinister with things sublime
Thomas Hardy, Late Lyrics and Earlier (1922). Now, whether this third stanza is calculated to make us feel better or worse, I cannot say. I also cannot say whether it makes this particular reader feel better or worse. But one thing is certain: it is classic Hardy.
"Woodburner with Pink, Violet, and Red Flowers in a Vase"