Thomas Hardy poems still move readers 100 years on

Issue date: 06 June 2013


Poems by Thomas Hardy, written 100 years ago to celebrate the joyful early years of marriage to his wife Emma after she died, will be read and discussed at a special event in the Arnolfini in Bristol on Saturday 8 June.

The event, organised by the UWE Long Nineteenth-Century Network, in conjunction with the UWE RegionalHistory Centre, will celebrate the Thomas Hardy Poems of 1912-13.

Bill Greenslade, Professor of English Literature at UWE Bristol says, “These poems treat the universal experience of loss of a loved one: they explore states of grief and desolation but also the recalling of states of joy and passionate love. A 100-years on, these 21 poems, taken together, are amongst the finest elegies in British poetry. Poems such as 'The Voice', 'At Castle Boterel' and 'After a Journey' offer a level of emotional expression and honesty of feeling expression which continue to engage and move readers, whether a hundred years ago or today.

“The poems are important to the SW region because of their association with North Cornwall and the area around Boscastle where Thomas Hardy and Emma conducted their romance, from the spring of 1870, resulting in their marriage in 1874. 'Beeny Cliff', 'St Juliot' and the 'Vallency Valley' are as well known to readers of Hardy's poetry as they are to visitors to this beautiful part of the country. It is against the lanes and on the cliffs of this region, against the backdrop of the sea, that Hardy recalls the intense memory of these times in his poems, recaptured only to express the acute pain of loss and, in his case, a subsequent loss of love over much of the course of his 38-year marriage to Emma.

“These poems explore an astonishing variety of states of feeling, from shock and despair, to denial, wishful thinking and self-punishment, to the ecstasy of recapturing joy. Hardy has a magical gift for re-entering the past as if it were the present and for stepping outside himself to examine his own responses. In this sense his is a very modern, contemporary voice in poetry. We are privileged to have such great poems in the English language and this event is an opportunity to celebrate and enjoy these works a century after they were written.”

Thomas Hardy's wife, Emma, died on 27 November 1912 – bringing to an end a marriage which had declined from its joyful beginnings to a sour and bitter union. This was confirmed in the extensive diaries which Emma had kept throughout these years and which became accessible to Hardy on her death.

Hardy wrote to his friend, Edward Clodd, on 13 December 1912, that 'my life is intensely sad to me now without her'. However, within a few weeks Hardy commenced an extraordinary process of imaginative re-creation of their joyful, early years together which resulted in the 'Poems of 1912-13'.

The event will cover the literary and personal context in which the 'Poems of 1912-13' were composed and a number of the poems will be discussed in detail. The sessions will be led by tutors from the English Literature programme in the Department of Arts at UWE: Professor Bill Greenslade, Dr Gill Ballinger, Dr Mike Davis.​

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