(Review) The Essential Hardy, Selected and with an Introduction by Joseph Brodsky

Publication Date: 1995.
Publisher: Ecco Press.
Genre: Poetry.
Pages: 192.
Source: Self-purchase.
Rating: 4 stars for very good.

Joseph Brodsky (1940-1996) was a Russian poet and essayist. He wrote the 63 page introduction. The later 117 pages are selected poems from Thomas Hardy (1840-1928.)
There are 101 poems in the book.
Link to read the biography of Joseph Brodsky.
After Thomas Hardy received negative reviews from his last novels, he concentrated on poetry.
The last two novels Hardy wrote were Tess of the D'Urbervilles (1891) and Jude the Obscure (1895).
Links to read further information on Thomas Hardy.
Poetry Foundation  
Poem Hunter

My Thoughts:
Reviewing poetry is not something I do often, and I'm never sure exactly where to start.
What I can do is state what I like and don't like, and post lines from the poems that speak to me.
This seems rather elementary, but I hope it will suffice.

The first poem that I like/love and spoke to me (my mind and emotion.)
The second poem listed is "Neutral Tones." I've read this poem several times and each time something new stands out. For example: "The smile on your mouth was the deadest thing/ Alive enough to have strength to die;" A smile is compared to something dead. This is shocking to me. It's also tragic, and a stunning comparison. A smile is happiness and joy. A smile is inviting and kind. Hardy compares the smile to death. So, what is Hardy really saying? I believe the person smiling is superficial, deceptive, conniving, and cruel.

The second poem of my two favorites.

"Going and Staying"

"The moving sun-shapes on the spray,
The sparkles where the brook was glowing,
Pink faces, plighting, moonlit May,
These were the things we wished would stay;
        But they were going.

Seasons of blankness as of snow,
The silent bleed of a world decaying,
The moan of multitudes in woe,
These were the things we wished would go;
       But they were staying.

Then we looked closelier at Time,
And saw his ghostly arms revolving
To sweep off woeful things with prime,
Things sinister with things sublime
      Alike dissolving.

I don't believe this is a poem about nature or weather.
This is a poem about life. May is a month in late spring. It's a month of freshness and fragrance. It's a month filled with growth and promise and hope. Snow means winter, but it can also mean the winter of one's life. Winter can mean of a senior age, or it can mean how a person feels about their life regardless of age. Winter is a dormant season. There is no growth, only a frigid quiet period.
"Ghostly arms revolving" reminds me of the mystery of death.
The words "woeful" and "dissolving" remind me of death.
Hardy may be referring to a physical death at the prime of life, as compared to vibrant "glowing" May, or he may be speaking of the death of a dream. A dream of something that will never become fruit bearing, it has died in winter.


  1. yes, the suicidal nature of the cruel smile, all unknown to it's perpetrator... the second poem is remarkable: talking of all life from the darwinian pov, wherein nature is"bloody in tooth and claw"(although he wasn't the first to use that phrase), meaning the inexorability of death, the ancient leveler of all things...


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