I vacillate on this; ask me one day and it is Saul Bellow; another day it is Kurt Vonnegut’ and on the odd day it is Ernest Hemingway. In fact, it is Thomas Hardy.
by Charlie Leck
I set aside what part of the morning wasn’t already promised to my wife to read some poetry. My one-and-only has me running around this morning doing this and that’s for her little lamb business. Very frankly, it is one of my least favorite ways to spend my time, but she’s in need of help today and how can I say no to her when she never says no to me.
Well, I still carved out an hour and I decided to spend it with THE MAJOR POETS: ENGLISH & AMERICAN [Harcourt, Brace and Company, New York, 1956]. How about Thomas Hardy’s poems? He certainly is one of the most important of all English novelists. It’s difficult, I suppose, to put him up there with Dickens, but I have. I lean back in my chair and think about it – patiently and contemplatively. Who, in the English language, ever wrote a better novel than Hardy? Dickens! In my mind, that is the only possibility!
Here’s the answer to the question suggested in the title of this blog: Thomas Hardy. What a story teller! The best in British literature? The best in the English language? Only Dickens comes close! Hugo in French? Perhaps better! Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky in Russian? Perhaps!
But, on this day when I want to read a little poetry, I read Thomas Hardy. Oh, my goodness! I am sorry. The genius who wrote TESS OF THE D’URBERVILLES, THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE, and THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE, pretty much sucked as a poet. I have a wonderful volume of his poetry on my bookshelf. It’s a rare volume and worth a dollar or two. Nevertheless, I read some of his works in the above mentioned volume. They suck.
Here is NUETRAL TONES (considered one of his best)… judge or yourself…
We stood by a pond that winter day,
And the sun was white, as though chidden of God,
And a few leave lay on the starving sod;
-- they had fallen from an ash, and were gray.
Your eyes on me were as eyes that rove
Over tedious riddles of years ago;
And some words played between us to and fro
On which lost the more by our love
The smile on your mouth was the deadest thing
Alive enough to have strength to die;
And a grin of bitterness swept thereby
Like an ominous bird a-wing
Since then, keen lessons that love deceives,
And wrings with wrong, have shaped to me
Your fade, and the God-curst sun, and a tree
And a pond edged with grayish leaves
Read it any way you want. Squeeze it, stretch it, massage it! Whatever you do, it is a lousy poem. One of the great prose writers of all time simply stunk when it came to poetry.
That’s okay! My favorite novel of all time – ALL TIME – is Tess of the D’Ubervilles. And right behind it is The Mayor of Casterbridge.
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