‘Now there is clarity. There is the harvest of having written twenty novels first’, said Ezra Pound in praise of Thomas Hardy’s poetry when it first appeared. Certainly it is tempting to find in the novels passages that with their mastery of cadence and rhythm seem to be moving in the direction of poetry, like the following from ‘The Woodlanders’. To set the context: the woodsman Giles Winterborne is loved by the peasant girl Marty South, but has eyes only for his childhood sweetheart Grace Melbury, who has however become better educated and at her father’s urging makes a match instead with the handsome young doctor Edred Fitzpiers. Fitzpiers proves unfaithful and the marriage does not turn out well; he goes off to the Continent with another woman but quarrels with her and returns to resume his marriage. The distraught Grace flees to Giles for help. On a foul night of storm, he gives her refuge in his woodland cottage but mindful of her reputation insists on staying outside all night in a very inadequate shelter made of a few branches. He is already unwell, and the exposure finishes him off. Grace returns to Fitzpiers and only Marty is left to mourn Giles: her touching elegy for him closes the book.
‘Now, my own, own love’, she whispered, ‘you are mine, and only mine; for she has forgot ’ee at last, although for her you died! But I – whenever I get up I’ll think of ’ee, and whenever I lie down I’ll think of ’ee again. Whenever I plant the young larches I’ll think that none can plant as you planted; and whenever I split a gad, and whenever I turn the cider wring, I’ll say that none could do it like you. If ever I forget your name let me forget home and heaven!… But no, no, my love, I never can forget ’ee; for you was a good man, and did good things.’