The Awful Thomas Hardy

Email Print

I’ve never much liked Thomas Hardy (1840-1928). His poetry is old-fashioned, uninspiring, and ponderous. It’s the sort of stiff, self-important lecturing in verse one would expect from a late Victorian.

And now, I see that he was also a firm and credulous believer in the British state’s propaganda during World War I.

The poem “A Call to National Service” is basically a propaganda poster in verse and includes the stanza

I now would speed like yester wind and whirred/
Through yielding pines; and serve with never a slack/
So loud for promptness all around outcries!

Wow. Who couldn’t love a poem that includes the word “promptness?”
There’s also “England to Germany in 1914″ which portrays the gargantuan British Empire as the saintly, meek, and hapless victim of bloodthirsty Germans:

We have nursed no dreams to shed your blood,/
We have matched your might not rancorously/
Save a flushed few whose blatant mood/
You heard and marked as well as we

Those Christ-like Brits. They never asked for trouble. If everyone would just leave them to their Empire and their concentration camps for Boer women and children and their massacres of unarmed Indians, everything would be alright.

Then there is “An Appeal to America on Behalf of the Belgian Destitute” which is blatant propaganda aimed at getting Americans to enter the war on Britain’s side. The atrocities committed by the Germans in Belgium hardly exceeded the many murderous deeds committed by the Brits in their many colonies, but the Brits drove home the “Rape of Belgium” theme with ferocious efficiency.

Says Hardy:

We know that nearer first your duty lies;/
But – is it much to ask that you let plead/
Your lovingkindness with you –wooing-wise–/
Albeit that aught you owe, and must repay,/
No man can say?

I wonder if Hardy was as passive-aggressive in his personal life as he is in his poetry.

For good World War poetry, I’d recommend Wilfred Owen instead:

If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,–
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

11:49 pm on July 8, 2008