- Thomas Hardy
When Hardy's estranged wife Emma died suddenly at Max Gate in late November 1912 the shock propelled him into an intense period of artistic creativity. "Yes: what you say is true," he told his friend, Edward Clodd, "One forgets all the recent years & differences, & the mind goes back to the early times when each was much to the other" (Letters, 4:239). His loneliness and alienation in marriage complicated by the emotional pressures of bereavement moved him to sublimate in verse the pain and misery of recent years in a reification of the woman he had once longed to love.
Aside from his life-long work on The Dynasts, Hardy's "Emma" poems, which extend beyond the "Poems of 1912-13," constitute the supreme entity of his career as a poet. Sublimation—internalizing fusions of unresolved anxiety, frustrated desire (surging back from "the early times"), fantasy, self-recrimination, despair, loss, and resentment—enacts a measure of purification. Thus Hardy was to revitalize Emma in a mode of visionary mythologizing. This not only yielded, in strong, tightly organized poetic forms, some of his most lyrical and memorable poetry but also a means to emotional management.
Mark Cazelet is completely in tune with all of this. His beautifully illustrated limited edition (200 signed and numbered copies) of Green Blades: [End Page 338] Poems by Thomas Hardy (Llandogo, Monmouthshire: Old Stile Press, 2007) presents an exquisite tribute to Hardy's "Emma" poems, encapsulating in his images no conventional reading but, more aptly, the oblique, the irrational, the "essence of things" (Hardy's phrase) and the indeterminate.
As has been crudely publicized, Hardy read his wife's diaries after her death and found himself a brutally insensitive husband. Guilty—cruelly so. The bereaved husband reading the secret dairies of his estranged spouse might encounter nothing less; indeed, it may be that a suicide could not have injured him more. These brutalities, the promulgations of a sensationalist media are, naturally, nowhere to be seen in Green Blades. Wholly in sympathy with Claire Tomalin's gentle understanding of Hardy's "rediscovery of repressed sorrow and forgotten love" (The Time-Torn Man), Mark Cazelet's images reflect deeply on the scrupulous honesty of the poet, creating an effect of spare, candid, minimalist yet intriguingly ambiguous lines and shapes reflecting Hardy's own lines and shapes in their experimental and psychologically complex forms. According to the publisher, each of Cazelet's images (twenty-two, total) is formed from one woodcut and one linocut and printed directly from the original blocks. "Five colours are involved for which the inks were specially mixed by Cranfield Colours." Primary colors plus two, the hues of a rainbow. Moreover, the sequence of the images is carefully arranged to mirror the growth of self-awareness as it is expressed in Hardy's poems: the self-doubt, the illusive aspects of memory; the startle of short, sharp insights. In his poem, "The Walk," the speaker experiences the strange un-ghosting of a room where once a woman had waited for him.
The musing voice recalls that "You did not walk with me / of late" because "you" were too "weak and lame" (Emma, too, was lame). Then, the focus shifts from the "you" to the "hill-top tree" and the "gated ways"—that is, to the horizon and the end in sight via the pathways to be taken. "Not thinking of you as left behind," he says. But now she's no longer there to be "left behind" things are strangely different. Why should returning to an empty room matter now if earlier he hadn't ever thought of her as "left behind"? Perhaps because she has now left him behind? Perhaps because in her absence on the walks she was always—in a taken-for-granted way—present? He can't exactly pinpoint "What difference, then?": "Only that underlying sense / Of the look of a room on returning thence."
That small exclusivity in "Only" chills a little because it exposes the fragility, the mereness of the contingency—the indeterminacy of the "look" of things. "Lonely" echoes in "Only" but it remains unspoken, for that isn't quite it. He...