Monday, 16 April 2012

If you see Thomas Hardy on the Road, Give Him a Doughnut

Peter Kirk has posted on Gentle Wisdom some comments on my own posting of The Convergence of the Twain, Thomas Hardy's poem on the loss of the Titanic.
And Peter rightly notes the shock that Hardy's idea of God, the Immanent Will, should have been - so to speak - planning this tragic accident.
Some people, based entirely on wishful thinking, have tried to reclaim Thomas Hardy as a Christian almost against his will. This is clearly counter to his clearly expressed thoughts, his poetry and his novels - but otherwise it's entirely plausible. Whatever else Convergence of the Twain says, it's not a poem about "God's in his heaven, all's right with the world" (not my words - one of Jeeves'). Hardy, in his cheerful way, is contemplating the clash between human achievement and the chaos that brings all our aspirations to nothing:
"Over the mirrors meant
To glass the opulent
The sea-worm crawls
--grotesque, slimed, dumb, indifferent"
Which isn't that unlike the sentiment you could find in Ecclesiastes.  "Vanity, vanity," cries the Philosopher, indeed.
Certainly when I had the chance to meet him in 19th Century Wessex, Hardy seemed mostly interested in the other sex rather than any less terrestrial divine beings. Indeed, noting his infatuation with his former schoolteacher, I thought it best to keep contact to a sensible, cordial distance. But he was 20 and had a strange mother, so I suspect his obsessions were entirely a combination of hormones and repression, which six miles and above of walking every day seemed unable to subdue.
But all this musing has left me thinking about the Hardyness of the world in which we live. As Norman Clegg remarked, out in the lovely countryside where we live, there's the sound of little creatures eating other creatures. The average wild animal, living in an Edenic landscape, can hope at best that it gets run over before it breaks a leg and starves, or is eaten alive by a slightly bigger animal.
In the whole history of humanity, the percentage of people who lived a full healthy life and slipped gently from sleep into death, old and full of years, having their descendants even unto three or four generations, is small. While those miscarried, aborted, died (children and mothers) in childbirth, died suddenly of unexpected disease or tragic accident or slowly and painfully from cancer and other long-holding, dignity-stealing diseases is terribly large. (You'll excuse me being a bit vague on the stats - I've sent Burton off to do an audit of the doilies). And we have only had effective pain-killers for a couple of short centuries.
So if we take our cue from the natural world, we must surely side with Thomas Hardy and conclude that the "Spinner of the Years" is a heartless brute, if not a player of warped and cruel games.
It seems to me that we've four possible responses to this:
1) Go with Tommy H. The Immanent Will's a monster. Accepting that the Immanent Will is no cruel, conscious, Other - but the combination of the random events and actions that make up an unlikely, doomed world under an empty sky. Meaning - or lack of it - is what you make it.
2) Light a tea-light, tell ourselves that the stars are God's daisy chain, and try not to think black thoughts.
3) Try to reconcile the bleakness of the cosmic state with the fact that, every morning the sun rises. Put your faith in the belief that, when the Titanic sank - in strict accord with the rules of the world that say that ice is hard, and metal can be broken, and is heavier than water - that Someone grieved, Someone sank to the depths, and that Someone will raise her crew and passengers at a last day. And hope this mad hope in the unlikely, irrational but totally firm belief that that One has already started that raising process.
4) Deliberately miscount the number of conclusions, thus giving ourselves a momentary wry smile at the unfairness of things.
For all its terrors and fears, it's a beautiful world, PK Purvis. And for all its beauty, Madeline, it's terrifying. Rabbits may look like gnomes at sunset, but that doesn't stop them being ripped to pieces by foxes or eaten by flies.
And if you see Thomas Hardy on the road, give him a doughnut? It's only temporary. But the sugar- rush might cheer him up.


  1. You've reminded me why I follow your posts - such wisdom in humour. Wondering if I should stock up on doughnuts in case I meet Hardy on the road. But how would I recognize him?

  2. Very good post. Thank you.

    I choose (5): When the Titanic sank (and in Auschwitz, and when the World Trade Centre fell, and in Hiroshima and Cambodia and Rwanda and the tsunami), there was that of God in everyone who grieved, who sacrificed their life to save another, and in those who died, and who loved and lived and laughed. And one day they will be reincarnated and can live again on this beautiful green earth, where life is so abundant that it is sometimes wasteful, and where physical existence gives rise to dangers and terrors as well as love and pleasure.

  3. Where's the 5th from the possible 4?

  4. CB, Yewtree did 5 for me, and rather beautifully.

    Nancy, if he looks at you, thinks you remind him of the girl he fell in love with 50 years ago, then sighs wistfully and wanders off wishing the non-existent God didn't dislike him so much - that's your man.

  5. Um.. I'm sure you know, and I feel diffident about mentioning it, that the quote God's in his heaven, though oft spouted by that delightful fellow Jeeves, was the work of Robert Browning (not, my Druid points, out his illustrious bird) in Pippas Passes, 1841...


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