Thursday, September 20, 2007

Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardy was a great novelist and poet who had the odd chance to be a native pessimist in an era not known for its pessimism. He was born in 1844, an Englishman who lived to see a large part of the world made British, and all manner of apparent progress in politics, industry and science, and he was disconcerted over most of it.

The following, written in 1912, is his thought on one of the great symbols of the end of that period.

"The Convergence of the Twain"

In the solitude of the Sea
Deep from human vanity,
And the Pride of Life that planned her, stilly couches she.

Steel chambers, late the pyres
Of her salamandrine fires,
Cold currents thrid, and turn to rythmic tidal lyres.

Over the mirrors meant
To glass the opulent
The sea-worm crawls- grotesque, slimed, dumb, indifferent.

Jewels in joy designed
To ravish the sensuous mind
Lie lightless, all their sparkles bleared and black and blind.

Dim moon-eyed fishes near
Gaze at the gilded gear
And query: "What does this vaingloriousness down here?"

Well: while was fashioning
This creature of cleaving wing,
The Immanent Will that stirs and urges everything

Prepared a sinister mate
For her- so gaily great
A Shape of Ice- for the time fat and dissociate.

Alien they seemed to be:
No mortal eye could see
The intimate wielding of their later history.

Or sign that they were bent
By paths coincident
On being anon twin halves of one august event,

Till the Spinner of the Years
Said "Now!" and each one hears,
And consummation comes, and jars two hemispheres.

-Thomas Hardy-


Jeff Moss said...


"Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!" As terrible as that sinking was, it was still only a foretaste of the complete overturning of this world order by the same Immanent Will (although perhaps not in the sense that Hardy would have understood).

Cf. Revelation 18:21, "Then a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, 'Thus with violence the great city Babylon shall be thrown down, and shall not be found anymore.'"

Thomas Banks said...


Well put. Chesterton had an interesting point about Hardy in his "Literature of the Victorian Period," where he said that the extreme fatalism that Hardy saw working its way in the universe ("Imminent Will") led him to see more demons than the most superstitious peasant of the middle ages.


Jeff Moss said...

So then, the same happenings that to Hardy were the work of his "demons" of Fate, are to the believer the work of the Living God.

Faced with one and the same occurrence, Hardy shudders in horror, while the believer (medieval or contemporary) is inspired to bow down in worship.

Ironic, that.