The Older Hardy

For all lovers of Thomas Hardy ( this biography is required reading. Gittings ( shows us the man whose last novel, Jude The Obscure, was published in 1895 but who lived on to the ripe old age of 87, dying in 1928. Latterly the author was much more concerned with poetry ( Andrew (A.N.) Wilson devotes the first chapter of his 1999 book God’s Funeral ( to the later Hardy. The work is named after a poem of Hardy’s written in 1908-1910.



I saw a slowly-stepping train – Lined on the brows, scoop-eyed and bent and hoar – Following in files across a twilit plain A strange and mystic form the foremost bore.


And by contagious throbs of thought Or latent knowledge that within me lay And had already stirred me, I was wrought To consciousness of sorrow even as they.


The fore-borne shape, to my blurred eyes, At first seemed man-like, and anon to change To an amorphous cloud of marvellous size, At times endowed with wings of glorious range.


And this phantasmal variousness Ever possessed it as they drew along: Yet throughout all it symboled none the less Potency vast and loving-kindness strong.


Almost before I knew I bent Towards the moving columns without a word; They, growing in bulk and numbers as they went, Struck out sick thoughts that could be overheard:-


“O man-projected Figure, of late Imaged as we, thy knell who shall survive? Whence came it we were tempted to create One whom we can no longer keep alive?


“Framing him jealous, fierce, at first, We gave him justice as the ages rolled, Will to bless those by circumstance accurst, And longsuffering, and mercies manifold.


“And, tricked by our own early dream And need of solace, we grew self-deceived, Our making soon our maker did we deem, And what we had imagined we believed.


“Till, in Time’s stayless stealthy swing, Uncompromising rude reality Mangled the Monarch of our fashioning, Who quavered, sank; and now has ceased to be.


“So, toward our myth’s oblivion, Darkling, and languid-lipped, we creep and grope Sadlier than those who wept in Babylon, Whose Zion was a still abiding hope.


“How sweet it was in years far hied To start the wheels of day with trustful prayer, To lie down liegely at the eventide And feel a blest assurance he was there!


“And who or what shall fill his place? Whither will wanderers turn distracted eyes For some fixed star to stimulate their pace Towards the goal of their enterprise?” . . .


Some in the background then I saw, Sweet women, youths, men, all incredulous, Who chimed as one: “This figure is of straw, This requiem mockery! Still he lives to us!”


I could not prop their faith: and yet Many I had known: with all I sympathized; And though struck speechless, I did not forget That what was mourned for, I, too, once had prized.


Still, how to bear such loss I deemed The insistent question for each animate mind, And gazing, to my growing sight there seemed A pale yet positive gleam low down behind,


Whereof to lift the general night, A certain few who stood aloof had said, “See you upon the horizon that small light – Swelling somewhat?” Each mourner shook his head.


And they composed a crowd of whom Some were right good, and many nigh the best . . . Thus dazed and puzzled ‘twixt the gleam and gloom Mechanically I followed with the rest


A more recent biography Thomas Hardy: The Time-torn Man ( was offered by Claire Tomalin ( in 2007.

No time is ever wasted thinking about or reading Thomas Hardy.


An excellent discussion about Victorian Pessimism is to be found in the BBC Radio 4 ‘In Our Time’ 45 minute episode on that subject. Available from the link   With Dinah Birch, Professor of English at the University of Liverpool; Rosemary Ashton, Quain Professor of English Language and Literature at University College London; Peter Mandler, University Lecturer and Fellow in History at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge. Chaired by Melvyn Bragg. First broadcast Thursday 10 May 2007.


336 pages in Penguin paperback edition

ISBN 978-0140050493



Thomas Hardy                     Robert Gittings                  Claire Tomalin

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