How can one define or describe the poetic style of Thomas Hardy?
The term "poetic style" may be aptly applied to prose as well as poetry, "poetic" being a word applicable to style as well as genre. There can be no debate that Hardy's descriptive style as employed in his novels is often poetic, often transcending the boundaries of simple prose and becoming long form poetry in its own right.
This is particularly true for Hardy's descriptive passages focusing on natural landscapes, which often provide a symbolic or metaphorical accompaniment to the emotions, thoughts and actions of his characters. Hardy's novel The Return of the Native contains many such examples of poetic prose. For example, this passage from the opening chapter contains alliterative ("pickaxe, plough or spade") and picturesque phrases and internal rhyme (Distilled by the sun, kneaded by the moon, it is renewed in a year, in a day, or in an hour"), as well as lofty speculative thoughts ("Who can say of a particular sea that it is old?"), all lending a poetic quality to the chapter.
To recline on a stump of thorn in the central valley of Egdon, between afternoon and night, as now, where the eye could reach nothing of the world outside the summits and shoulders of heathland which filled the whole circumference of its glance, and to know that everything around and underneath had been from prehistoric times as unaltered as the stars overhead, gave ballast to the mind adrift on change, and harassed by the irrepressible New. The great inviolate place had an ancient permanence which the sea cannot claim. Who can say of a particular sea that it is old? Distilled by the sun, kneaded by the moon, it is renewed in a year, in a day, or in an hour. The sea changed, the fields changed, the rivers, the villages, and the people changed, yet Egdon remained. Those surfaces were neither so steep as to be destructible by weather, nor so flat as to be the victims of floods and deposits. With the exception of an aged highway, and a still more aged barrow presently to be referred to—themselves almost crystallized to natural products by long continuance—even the trifling irregularities were not caused by pickaxe, plough, or spade, but remained as the very finger-touches of the last geological change.
Thematically, Hardy's poetry is deeply pessimistic and fatalistic, anticipating the alienation of the post-World War I "lost generation" even in his poems composed before 1914 (he died in 1928 and wrote much poetry in his later years). We can only generalize, but his poetic style, in contrast to his themes, is traditional, meaning he used rhyme schemes, poetic forms such as the ode, and allusions typical of nineteenth-century poetry. In "A Broken Appointment," for example, Hardy uses such rhymes as "there" and "overbear," "make" and "sake," and "come" and "sum" to create a conventional rhythm. His most famous poems have a similar rhyming cadence that would have been familiar and comfortable to ordinary audiences of his time.
To use one example of his style, Hardy writes "The Darkling Thrush" (1900), perhaps his most famous poem, in the form of an ode, a traditional form that addresses a specific subject. The poem adopts a conventional A/B, A/B rhyme scheme: "gray/day,"sky/nigh" etc. Further, in phrases such as "The wind [in] its death-lament," the poem alludes to or references poems such as Shelley's "Ode to the West Wind" in its "dirge/ of the dying year."
What makes Hardy's poems jarring is his juxtaposition of traditional and comforting form and meter with chillingly dark and fatalistic themes.
One major theme in Thomas Hardy's poetry is his realization and regret that he has turned away from what he considers the most important things in life. His poetry has a tone of deep regret. The style of his writing is blunt and straight forward. He was not a Romantic poet who rhapsodized about the beauty of nature. He was a fatalist and a realist who spoke simply about man's futility. Hardy was unconcerned about critics when he wrote his poetry. He was already a wildly successful novelist, and he wrote his poetry is celebration of his own talent. His simple, beautiful style expresses his own disappointments tragically and beautifully.