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.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

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 he is sheerly helpless. Finally, Hardy shifts to the plural when he writes of “purblind Doomsters” who will manipulate and control his own life yet who are totally devoid of any care or concern for him. Not only are they more powerful than he, but they also outnumber him.

This metaphor is couched in the form of the English sonnet. The content of the sonnet, both structurally and thematically, adheres to the pattern of the form; specifically, the theme and exposition follow requirements of form. The first stanza introduces the subject and the question, essentially, “Life is a pilgrimage of pain—why so?” The answer is that such suffering is not intentionally willed by a “vengeful god.” The second stanza elaborates this idea by repetition and denial. One “Powerfuller...

(The entire section is 406 words.)