Thomas Hardy is often described as a pessimist. But, as I have noted before, one person's pessimism is another person's realism. The way I see it, Hardy did not avert his eyes and he faithfully reported what he saw.
Moreover, Hardy was neither a cynic nor a misanthrope. Yes, he may have come to gloomy conclusions about how Life and the Universe run their course. However, his empathy and his fellow-feeling (a phrase that seems quaint in these times) are apparent throughout his poetry.
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!
Thomas Hardy, Time's Laughingstocks and Other Verses (1909).
The following passage by David Cecil is apt:
"Summarised in cold print, Hardy's view of life would suggest that his poems are depressing reading. Perhaps they ought to be; but they are not. Books that depress are written by those who do not respond to life, who are unable to enjoy or appreciate or love. Hardy on the contrary was unusually able to enjoy and appreciate and love. Indeed his tragic sense comes from the tension he feels between his sense of man's capacity for joy and his realisation that this is all too often disastrously thwarted.
. . . . .
His poems bear the recognisable stamp of his personality, simple, sublime, lovable. Here we come to the central secret of the spell he casts. It compels us because it brings us into immediate contact with a spirit that commands our hearts as well as our admiration. . . . His integrity is absolute. He faces life at its darkest, he is vigilant never to soften or to sentimentalise; yet he never strikes a note of hardness or brutality. His courage in facing hard facts is equalled by his capacity to pity and sympathise."
David Cecil, "The Hardy Mood," in F. B. Pinion (editor), Thomas Hardy and the Modern World (1974).
Cecil's remarks about Hardy's "integrity" bring to mind Thom Gunn's comment (which I have previously posted here) that, when reading Hardy's poetry, he had a "feeling of contact with an honest man who will never lie to me." Thom Gunn, "Hardy and the Ballads," The Occasions of Poetry: Essays in Criticism and Autobiography (North Point Press 1982), page 105.
I am also reminded of Kingsley Amis's comment on Edward Thomas, which has also appeared here before, but is worth revisiting:
"How a poet convinces you he will not tell you anything he does not think or feel, since you have only his word for it, is hard to discover, but Edward Thomas is one of those who do it."
Kingsley Amis, The Amis Anthology: A Personal Choice of English Verse (1988), page 339.
Thomas Hardy and Edward Thomas are, I think, two of a kind.