Thomas Hardy’s Poetry: Poetic Apprehension and Poetic Method

  • James Gibson


There is an immediate difficulty in considering Middleton Murry’s reference to Hardy’s poetic apprehension and poetic method in that the word apprehension is capable of several meanings.1 We might at first think that ‘poetic apprehension’ means Hardy’s superb gift of observation. He was, as he told us, ‘The man with the watching eye’, ‘a man who used to notice such things’, and we remember J. M. Barrie’s comment ‘That man couldn’t look out of a window without seeing something that had never been seen before.’ Recently I met a man in his eighties who as a young boy had been taken on several visits to Max Gate by the then Vicar of Winterborne Monkton. He told me that on one of these visits Hardy turned to him and said ‘Boy, what can you remember of the roofs you saw on your way here today?’ He replied in some embarrassment that he could remember nothing. A week later, on another visit to Max Gate, he studied all the roofs on the journey there in case he was asked again. Eventually Hardy turned to him and said, ‘Boy, tell me about the trees you saw on the way here today.’ Again he had to confess ignorance and Hardy then said to him, ‘Boy, you see but you do not observe!’ It is a shrewd piece of discrimination. Hardy himself both saw and observed, and one of the strengths of his writing is his ability to choose significant evocative detail — the ‘dry, empty, and white’ road stretching across the heath ‘like the parting-line on a head of black hair’, the primaeval rocks forming the road’s steep border, the gutters and spouts babbling ‘unchecked in the busy way of witless things’, the flag-rope gibbering hoarse and the shy hares printing long paces.


Black Hair Great Poet Rhyme Scheme Hardy Flower Species Aeternitatis 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    James Gibson and Trevor Johnson (eds), A Casebook: Thomas Hardy: Poems (London: Macmillan, 1979) p. 90. Hereafter cited as Casebook. Middleton Murry’s essay first published as ‘The Poetry of Mr Hardy’, in The Athenaeum, November 1919.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Gillian Beer, Can the Native Return? (The Hilda Hulme Lecture, 1988) (London: University of London, 1989) p. 18.Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    The Life and Work of Thomas Hardy, by Thomas Hardy, ed. Michael Millgate (London: Macmillan, 1984) p. 408. Hereafter cited as Life.Google Scholar
  4. 7.
    The Complete Poems of Thomas Hardy, ed. James Gibson (London: Macmillan, 1976). Hereafter cited as Complete Poems. ‘Domicilium’ is poem no. 1, ‘An August Midnight’ no. 113, ‘During Wind and Rain’ no. 441.Google Scholar
  5. 9.
    Trevor Johnson, A Critical Introduction to the Poems of Thomas Hardy (London: Macmillan, 1991) p. 164.Google Scholar
  6. 10.
    R. L. Purdy and Michael Millgate (eds), The Collected Letters of Thomas Hardy, vol. 5 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1985) p. 293.Google Scholar
  7. 14.
    Philip Larkin, extract from The Beverlonian (Beverley Grammar School), vol. 19, no. 75, February 1976.Google Scholar
  8. 17.
    Michael Millgate, Thomas Hardy: A Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985) p. 474.Google Scholar
  9. 21.
    Ralph Elliott, Thomas Hardy’s English (Oxford: Blackwell, 1984);Google Scholar
  10. Raymond Chapman, The Language of Thomas Hardy (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1990).Google Scholar
  11. 22.
    William Archer, Review of Wessex Poems in the Daily Chronicle, 21 December 1898.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© James Gibson 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • James Gibson

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations