chapter  XIX
10 Pages

THE FIRST BOOKS OF POEMS

At the time of Tennyson’s funeral, his poem ‘The LotosEaters’ was almost sixty years old. Published in 1833, it had long been known to everyone of Hardy’s generation; and, although Hardy did not quote it in any of the Wessex novels, there can be no doubt that he could easily have quoted it. The lines of the Choric Song of the long-buffeted companions of Ulysses were once too familiar to need quoting in a book like the present, but in these un-Tennysonian days it may be well to place the lines before the reader before we proceed to comment on them:

Let us swear an oath, and keep it with an equal mind, In the hollow Lotos-land to live and lie reclined On the hills like Gods together, careless of mankind. For they lie beside their nectar, and the bolts are hurl’d Far below them in the valleys, and the clouds are lightly curl’d

It does not require a very vivid imagination to conjecture Hardy’s thoughts when he brooded upon these lines, with their bitter picture of the Gods smiling at the praying hands of the ‘ill-used race of men’ . What a contrast there was between the way the public had received these lines by Tennyson and the way that same public had reacted to Hardy’s Aeschylean phrase about the President of the Immortals who had ended his sport with Tess. The contrast convinced Hardy that unconventional ideas could be more safely expressed in poetry than in prose fiction. The more he thought about this, the more certain he became that, if he were ever again moved by a desire to communicate with the public, he would do so in verse.