The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

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.

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 entire section is 445 words.)