The Poem

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Thomas Hardy has structured “Hap” to meet all the requirements of the form of an English sonnet: Its fourteen lines are written in iambic pentameter, the rhyme scheme abab, cdcd, efef, gg is complied with, and the three quatrains are followed by a rhymed couplet to conclude the poem.

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The title suggests all the readily identifiable characteristics connoted by the word “hap” (used as a noun until early in the twentieth century). The word itself has nearly disappeared in modern English except as a clipped form of the verb “happen” (as in “It then came to us to hap upon the drunken sailor”). At the time the poem was written, however, the word still functioned commonly as a noun meaning chance, luck, fortune, or coincidence.

Hardy’s use of the first person leaves no doubt about the poem’s existence as a personal expression of the author’s own attitudes about and experiences with life, here a certain resigned bitterness attributed to chance or bad luck. The poet is posing hard questions about life (particularly humankind’s relationship to a possibly existing god).

The poem has an “if-then-but” structure which exactingly adheres to its division into quatrains. Hardy asks an indirect question in the first stanza, gives a “then” answer in the second one; and follows it with a dismissal in the third. The couplet at the end serves to answer the question embedded in the beginning of the poem.

The opening line of the poem is an expressed desire for “some vengeful god” to communicate to him and laugh, at least, at the poet’s condition and suffering. The stanza reveals that Hardy would take satisfaction—though assuredly not joy or delight—in knowing that some omnipotent cosmic force was pleasuring itself in his own pain. This expression actually questions whether such a god exists.

In the middle stanza, Hardy indicates that he would accept such cosmic causes of his suffering by embracing death. He wishes to take some intellectual comfort, at least, in knowing that his pain has been willed by entities in the universe stronger than himself and over which he has absolutely no control.

The final quatrain begins with a loud “But not so.” Hardy concludes that the gods are not willfully subjecting him to pain and suffering in order to pleasure themselves. His anguish is not manifested in plan or design or thought. Rather, it can be explained only in terms of “Crass Casualty”—a phrase he uses to mean “chance,” or, more nearly correctly, “bad luck.” The couplet at the end serves to reemphasize this point: “purblind Doomsters” have indifferently, probably unknowingly, given his life “pain” rather than “blisses.”

Forms and Devices

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The sonnet is basically constructed around a simplistic metaphor: Life is a pilgrimage through which Hardy journeys, experiencing pain and suffering only. While making this journey, the poet is aware of the existence of God, but he is seemingly unable to determine whether he is a “vengeful” one. Hardy refers directly to God four times, citing him first as “Powerfuller than I,” a means of recognizing his own hopelessness and helplessness in the face of whatever God has in store for him. He later refers to God as “Crass Casualty,” by which, again, he means “chance” or “bad luck.” The reference to “Time” is to mention yet another universal force against which...

(The entire section contains 851 words.)

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