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Building Tension: Gothic Rhythm and Pastoral Imperfection in Hardy’s Poetry

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posted on 22.05.2017, 05:40 by Indy Clark

“Mr. Hardy has never written with flowing rhythms,” wrote an anonymous reviewer of Poems of the Past and the Present (1901), “his verse often halts, or dances in hobnails.” Contemporary criticism of Thomas Hardy’s poetry is littered with references to his “woodenness of rhythm,” “technical

inexpertness,” “clumsy metres,” and “lack of metrical finish.” His poetry is described as “slovenly, slipshod,” and “uncouth,” “poorly conceived and worse wrought.” Referring to poems in Hardy’s first collection, Wessex Poems (1898), one critic laments, “were the form equal to the matter, they would be poetry.” It was in reaction to this kind of criticism that Hardy wrote in the Life, “there was … as regards form, the inevitable ascription to ignorance of what was really choice after full knowledge.” In an attempt to show that his poetry was not simply the sudden and undoubtedly shortlived whim of an established novelist, Hardy states that “[y]ears earlier he had decided that too regular a beat was bad art.”His explanation draws upon his years of training and experience as an architect, which, according to Linda Shires, “was not merely a preliminary career but an important crucible for much of his art and labour to come.”


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