Thomas Hardy’s Poetry: Poetic Apprehension and Poetic Method
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.
KeywordsSteam Amid Candida Burial Univer
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- 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
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