Thomas Hardy's prolific output as a novelist often overshadows his secondary career as a poet. But his intensely musical and movingly mournful poems, mostly written after the death of his first wife, expose unparalleled levels of emotional truth, helping his writing form a bridge between the Victorians and modernism.
Hardy was born to a working class family in Higher Bockhampton, Dorset in 1840. His mother worked in domestic service and his father was a stonemason and amateur musician. At 16 Hardy became an apprentice to an architect and spent his early twenties in London, where he began to write his first poems, although the rural landscapes of his boyhood informed Hardy's imagination. In 1867 he returned to the area where he was born and supplemented his architectural wage by writing novels, which were soon popular enough for him to take up writing full-time. Public opinion turned against him and Hardy stopped writing fiction when Jude the Obscure was attacked for obscenity. Shortly afterwards, at the age of 58 he published his first collection of poetry, Wessex Poems (1898).
Many of Hardy's most moving poems were written immediately following his wife Emma's death in 1912. They recall not just their early days of happiness, but their long years spent mired in domestic misery. Hardy could also respond powerfully to public events. For example he wrote about the sinking of the Titanic in The Convergence of the Twain and the human cost of the Boer War in Drummer Hodge. At his death in 1928 Hardy's ashes were interred at Westminster Abbey, but his heart was removed for burial alongside Emma in Stinsford, Dorset.
O the opal and the sapphire of that wandering western sea,
And the woman riding high above with bright hair flapping free
The Nation's Favourite Poet