Human Shows, Far Phantasies, Songs and Trifles

by Thomas Hardy. New York: The Macmillan Company. 1925. 12mo. x+279 pp. $2.25.
MASEFIELD or Hardy? Which, as a poet, is greater? If the answer mattered, this new book, Human Shows, Far Phantasies, Songs and Trifles, would multiply votes for the eighty-five-year-old Hardy. But it does n’t matter. Both have greatness in them, and whether or not it is first-water greatness, only time can discover.
And time, as Hardy tells us over and over, is sure-footed and inexorable. Yet, without it, where is beauty? Love is short; death is long; and the mutations of time are many. The Wessex folk who crowd his verses, just as they crowd his novels, are all made sorrowful in one way or another — does it matter which? The TurnipHoer loves the distant Duchess; the Carrier has a vacant place by his knee instead of his wife; the East-End Curate ‘stoops along abstractedly, for good, or in vain, God wot!'; the City Clerk is ‘empty of interest in things, and wondering why he was born’; the Faithful Swallow gets, for his fidelity, ‘frost, hunger, snow.’ This is the world of Tess and of Jude the Obscure, approached a little more tenderly, perhaps, and packed with deeper implications. Substance is missing neither in the novel-synopses nor in lyrics as delicately profound as ‘Waiting Both’: —
A star looks down at me,
And says: ‘Here I and you
Stand, each in our degree:
What do you mean to do —
Mean to do?'
I say: ‘For all I know,
Wait, and let Time go by,
Till my change come.’ — ‘Just so,’
The star says. ‘So mean I —
So mean I.’
There is no outcry. The emotion is deep, deep, under water. The same repression is found in ‘The Month’s Calendar’ and ‘Ten Years Since’ and ‘That Moment’ (as unforgettable as it is terse). The same linking-up of man with the cosmos in general and the details of nature in particular is found in the almost humorous first half of ‘Snow in the Suburbs’ (by charming implication!) and the lusty ‘Ice on the Highway’ and the poem which ends, memorably, —
A Great Adjustment is taking place.
The personality behind it is the personality which runs through the whole book — ironical, big. and (in spite of those eighty-five years) unsenescent.
With the content so unassailable, we marvel at the repeated awkwardness of his form. How can he be guilty of the heavy structure, the archaicisms, the unmelodious inversions, of that un-song-like song, ‘In the Street’? How can he perpetrate a word like ‘ briskest ‘ or a phrase like ‘I am the woman who god him’? Yet the same poet is the maker of many verbal lovelinesses: —
The twigs of the birch imprint the December sky,
as again in that strong and comprehensive poem, ‘A Night, of Questionings.'
Thomas Hardy is right: in spite of their technical tightness, his poems will last longer than his novels. Here is a verse which is grave and beautiful and ‘up to’ his lyric genius: —
This fleeting life-brief blight
Will have gone past
When I resume my old and right
Place in the Vast.
We used the word ‘genius.’ It was intentional!