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Rhythm in Thomas Hardy's verse: "new continuities of meaning"

Laurence Estanove, Université Toulouse Le Mirail

Although Thomas Hardy started writing poetry as early as the 1860s, he only published his first collection of verse at the turn of the century, and continued doing so well into the twentieth. His poetic work can be considered as pre-modernist not only historically speaking, but also in the way it signals the transition from Victorian prosody to Modernist experimentations with verse. This is partly due to the way Hardy, in the process of writing poetry, always paid careful attention to the rhythmical power of words, as well as to the musicality of recurrent morphological patterns - or echoes. This concern for rhythm is also what governs the punctuation, syntax and overall graphic organisation of his poems, and most notably his peculiar use of ellipses. This has surprisingly gone unnoticed by critics so far, and yet Hardy's pauses and blank spaces are as much part of poetic meaning as words themselves, because they participate in the creation of that global continuity which forms Henri Meschonnic's definition of poetic rhythm. Paradoxically, Hardy's poetic method is one which favours dissonance, the discord of matter and expression, yet precisely doing so in order to achieve new continuities of meaning, mood, or imagery, in the words of biographer Michael Millgate. In spite of Hardy's learned and acute awareness of prosody, in his verse rhythm is therefore created by the close combination of semantic, oral and visual effects - rather by building an emotional geometry of the poem than by following fixed metrical forms. The limitations he set to his writing were mainly those of a search for a coherent poetic voice that would include the diversity and elusiveness of affect and experience.

HARDY, Thomas. The Complete Poems. James Gibson ed. Rev. ed. Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2001.
HARDY, Thomas. The Life and Work of Thomas Hardy. 1984. Michael Millgate ed. Rev. ed. London: Macmillan, 1989.
COLLOT, Michel. La Poésie moderne et la structure d'horizon. Paris: PUF, 1989.
DAVIE, Donald. Thomas Hardy and British Poetry. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1973.
DESSONS, Gérard & Henri MESCHONNIC. Traité du rythme (des vers et des proses). Paris: Dunod, 1998.
MESCHONNIC, Henri. Critique du rythme : anthropologie historique du langage. Lagrasse: Verdier, 1982.
TAYLOR, Dennis. Hardy's Metres and Victorian Prosody. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988.
The Thomas Hardy Association
Thomas Hardy Society
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