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THOMAS HARDY, WILLIAM BARNES AND THE QUESTION OF LITERARY INFLUENCE LLOYD SIEMENS University of Winnipeg Throughout his career as poet, Thomas Hardy resisted the conventional trappings of what he disparaged as "the jewelled line" of English poetry. From the 1860s onwards he treated traditional verse forms with an untraditional flexibility and he continued until his death to experiment with stanza patterns and rhyme schemes seldom or never employed in English poetry.1 To avoid the "word-music" of conventional poetic diction he appropriated nearly 150 dialect words and approximately 250 words classified by the Oxford English Dictionary as archaic, obsolete or rare. In addition, he coined over two hundred words and fabricated as many alliterative compounds (Hickson 12-27, 48-50). The Times Literary Supplement might declare that "no one was ever, apparently, more insensible to the natural magic, the delight of purely poetic language" (Feb. 1906, 49-50), but Hardy was less concerned with "poetic language" than with what — in praise of William Barnes — he described as "closeness of phrase to vision." Both the ruthless experimentation with form and the dedication to a new kind of poetic diction are the results of the most important single influence on Hardy's versification, the influence of Hardy's Dorset neighbour, William Barnes.2 Barnes was, among other things, an engraver, inventor, archaeologist, mathematician, wood-carver, and musician, but he was first a linguist with a reading knowledge of nearly sixty languages, and second, a scholarly experimenter in verse who went to Eastern, Teutonic, and Celtic poetry in search of new forms that would help him avoid what he felt was the staleness of nineteenth-century prosody. Unlike Hardy, Barnes remained orthodox in his religious beliefs; he eluded, writes Hardy, "those dreams and Victorian Review 19.1 (Summer 1993) 44Victorian Review speculations that cannot leave alone the mystery of things" (Thomas Hardy xi). In spite of religious and philosophical differences between the two men, Hardy acknowledged that he had "always felt precisely as if [he] had been a parishioner" of the older poet (Hardy 49). As a student Hardy appealed to Barnes as the final authority on classical grammar, and in the 1860s he gave readings of Barnes's poetry to London audiences. In 1879 Hardy wrote a review of Barnes's Poems of Rural Life in New Quarterly Magazine, the only review Hardy ever wrote. When Barnes died in 1886 Hardy wrote the obituary for the Athenaeum, as well as the moving poem, "The Last Signal." The Selected Poems of William Barnes that Hardy edited in 1908 and the selection of Barnes's poetry that he made for Ward's English Poets testify further to Hardy's admiration for Barnes — an admiration that was shared by Tennyson, Patmore, Gosse, and particularly Hopkins.3 In all of his prose writings on Barnes, Hardy records his respect for Barnes's courage to believe in his own talents (what Hardy calls the poet's "idiosyncrasies") and to develop them in the face of hostile criticism. Apart from his reiterated defense of artistic idiosyncrasy, Hardy returns several times to the two main grounds of his admiration for Barnes. The first, and the least significant for Hardy's "modern" idiom, is Barnes's experimentation with meter and rhyme. In his introduction to The Selected Poems of William Barnes Hardy singles out for special praise Barnes's "ingenious internal rhymes, his subtle juxtaposition of kindred lippings and vowel sounds" as well as the "sudden irregularities" in the midst of subtle rhythms and measures. The "ingenious" rhymes, taken mainly from the Persian, appear in both Barnes and Hardy, and it is reasonable to assume that in some of his rhyme schemes Hardy is imitating the older poet. A few of these rhymes may be illustrated briefly. Barnes is fond of what, in Philological Grammar, he calls "two-fold rhymings" (282). One kind of two-fold rhyme is the ghazal, a rhyme followed by assonance at the end of a line or half-line. Barnes employs ghazal in such poems as "Green," "Lowshot Light," and "Happy Times"; here it is in Hardy and in poems similar in theme and tone to Barnes's "Sly Bit O' Courten": Till up...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 43-48
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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