(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The criticism of Jude the Obscure and Tess of the D’Urbervilles for their supposed immorality led Hardy to pursue seriously his longstanding ambition to write poetry. Appealing to a better educated, more sophisticated audience than novelists did, poets were given more latitude. The poems in Wessex Poems, the first of many volumes of poetry that Hardy was to publish, included some poems written as early as the 1860’s, as well as poems written specifically for the book. Wessex Poems received a mixed critical reception. The established poetical style of the Victorian age had grown stale, and Hardy—somewhat like his contemporary Gerard Manley Hopkins—sought a new poetry. Difficulties in Hardy’s syntax and his very eclectic diction led many of the first readers of the Wessex Poems—and many readers since—to find the poems in this volume sometimes awkward.

Hardy employed a wide range of poetic forms in Wessex Poems: sonnets (including a sixteen line “sonnet” in the form pioneered by George Meredith), ballads, and dramatic monologues among them. In “The Impercipient,” Hardy makes ironical use of a metrical form common in Anglican hymns. Equally ironic is his use of the rigorous patterns of the sonnet to complain of the randomness of Fate in “Hap,” which is in this respect a forerunner of Robert Frost’s later sonnet, “Design.”

In “Hap,” Hardy concludes that the...

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(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

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