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December 09, 2009

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That's a dandy poem by Mr. Hardy, whom it is almost always a pleasure to read -- whereas it's not always possible to be as receptive as TSE demands. A nod of the head will not appease him. It's like the difference between a Schubert song and the second movement of the Unfinished. Eliot's greater ambition cannot be gainsaid. And it would be difficult to defend the claim that Hardy's poetry engages the intellect and exercises the moral intelligence to the extent Eliot's does. In a way, the preference for Hardy over Eliot recapitulates earlier moves by Auden and Larkin, don't you think?

Hi DL,

Yes, I think it does recapitulate Auden and Larkin a bit – though both of them had interesting modernist streaks as well, especially early on. Me, I don't really have a horse in this race. To adapt Olivier’s line from Spartacus for poetry, I like oysters and snails. What you say is absolutely right, though I do see another side as well: Eliot never attempted anything as ambitious (or ambitious in the same way, at least) as The Dynasts. And Eliot’s morality was largely Anglo-Catholic and in that sense more “received” than Hardy’s. Hardy, who was a pessimist and an atheist yet humane in the extreme, was perhaps more “modern” in his morality and no less serious (despite the comic or homey tone of many of the poems). Interesting to ponder!

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