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This article is taken from PN Review 70, Volume 16 Number 2, November - December 1989.

Gunn, for example Michael Schmidt
 
One reason that Thomas Hardy has cast a spell on English-language poetry this century is the imperfection of his poems. A fascination with techniques, stanza structures, new dictions, new metres, grant him a kind of perennial youth: he starts afresh with every work. Each poem is a new risk, not in the teeth of form, but with form itself. Housman's quatrains repeat the same range of heartbreaking gestures, achieving an even tone almost solipsistic in quality. But Hardy gives the impression of accessibility, seems almost sociable even at his most negative. He engages the reader by the execution of the poem quite as much as by its content. The poem is dialogue, the poet - in an ur-Modernist spirit - tipping us the wink that bleak poetic landscape, the elegy, are artefacts, things with occasions in a world of contingencies, true in and to context. There is no myth, no visionary structure. We do not suspend disbelief: on the contrary, Hardy intensifies our naturally reductive instincts. The very organisation of his collections insists on 'unadjusted' vision. He avoids the spurious sequence-making that is common today.

Hardy is an inadvertent teacher, a teacher by example, by fault, by tone. He teaches poets, and he teaches readers. He saves us from going too far towards Romanticism, he shows the inexhaustible varieties of form and diction available to us; he stresses by example that each poem has its occasion.

The word 'occasion' - The Occasions of Poetry - ...


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