Is Thomas Hardy Obsessed with the Past?

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Q) A critic has described Hardy as, “A poet obsessed with the past.”

How far do you agree with the claim?

In your answer, you should either refer to two/three poems in detail, or range more widely through the whole selection.

Many of Thomas Hardy’s poems are centered on the feelings summoned up when reminiscing about the past. On the surface, it seems as though Hardy is ‘obsessed with the past’ as many poems are laced with memories which conjure up feelings of nostalgia. It is important to consider, however, that this doesn’t necessarily mean that he is infatuated with bygones. It may also be the case that Hardy’s poetry is a means for him to comprehend and come to terms with the present.

Hardy tries to reclaim the past in his poem, ‘Under the Waterfall’. Fundamentally, the narrator – thought to be Emma - experiences a Proustian moment as she plunges her arm into a basin of water. This stimulation brings on an avalanche of memories, which are ‘fetched back from its thickening shroud of gray’ – symbolizing Hardy trying to rescue memories from the shroud of time. Emma feels anew the romantic feelings she felt on the day she dropped a drinking glass into the water, when she and her lover where having a picnic by a waterfall. Hardy utilizes a metaphor effectively, by referring to the day as being ‘fugitive’, which suggests that it is ephemeral and can be lost any moment. This particular memory of the past is a seemingly pleasant one as is suggested by the use of sibilance (ll 13-16). The repetition of the soft hissing sounds in ‘scoop of the self-same block’, ‘ceases’ and ‘peaces’ suggests a dreamy and idealistic setting. Hardy refers to the drinking-glass as being opalized; once more indicating to how long it has been since this even took place. He gives this drinking-glass almost religious significance by sanctifying it and calling it a ‘chalice’. The chalice symbolized unity between Hardy and Emma, which still lies under the waterfall and ‘its presence...
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