Welcoming Wonder: Day 2

Hap
Thomas Hardy

If but some vengeful god would call to me
From up the sky, and laugh: “Thou suffering thing,
Know that thy sorrow is my ecstasy,
That thy love’s loss is my hate’s profiting!”

Then would I bear it, clench myself, and die,
Steeled by the sense of ire unmerited;
Half-eased in that a Powerfuller than I
Had willed and meted me the tears I shed.

But not so.   How arrives it joy lies slain,
And why unblooms the best hope ever sown?
—Crass Casualty obstructs the sun and rain,
And dicing Time for gladness casts a moan. . . .
These purblind Doomsters had as readily strown
Blisses about my pilgrimage as pain.


This week as we consider the place of doubt in the Christian worldview, we turn our attention to the poets.  Years before Nietzsche told us God was dead, Thomas Hardy gave voice to a mindset already pervasive in the culture of the mid 19th century.  Today’s poem Hap was written in 1866, but its sentiment still reverberates.

In Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me, Karen Swallow Prior writes:

Hardy’s poems, like his novels, are riddled—in a truly bitter irony—with anger at God for not existing. In his poem “Hap,” Hardy asserts the mournful wish that human suffering were caused by the cruelty of God rather than, as he avows, mere chance. The poem expresses the poignant notion that even a malevolent God would be better than no God. For, despite his agnosticism, Hardy recognizes that it is God who provides meaning to human existence, even when that existence is consumed by suffering. The poem opens with the first half of a wistful hypothetical:

If but some vengeful god would call to me
From up the sky, and laugh: “Thou suffering thing,
Know that thy sorrow is my ecstasy,
That thy love’s loss is my hate’s profiting!”

Knowing that there was a reason for suffering—even if that reason were the mere vengefulness of a cruel deity—would provide a source of strength with which to endure the pain of human suffering even to the point of a defiant death:

Then would I bear it, clench myself, and die,
Steeled by the sense of ire unmated;
Half-eased in that a Powerfuller than I
Had willed and meted me the tears I shed.

“But not so,” says the poem. Rather it is “Crass Casualty’’—chance, happenstance, “hap”—that “obstructs sun and rain.”

Indeed chance and “dicing Time,” the poet says, “had as readily strown blisses about my pilgrimage as pain.” In other words, suffering and happiness are the simple products of random chance—as random as are the impersonal forces that set into motion an evolutionary process that is as likely to make one a man as a mollusk. Hardy yearns for even a wicked God in the same way that a battered child ferociously loves even a cruel parent.

Is a cruel God better than no God?

John 1: 1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

 

 

D I G  D E E P E R


Thomas Hardy

(1840–1928) Essentially a tragic novelist, Thomas Hardy wrote books that strike many readers as overly gloomy and pessimistic. A great novelist of the Victorian era, Hardy was also an accomplished poet (see English literature).

Hardy was born on June 2, 1840, in Upper Bockhampton, near Dorchester in Dorsetshire, England. He passed most of his long life in this region of woodland, heath, and moor. It forms the setting of most of his writings, under its old name of Wessex. He attended local schools until he was 16, when he became an apprentice in an architect’s office in Dorchester. In 1862 Hardy went to London to work as assistant to an architect. He had already begun to write verse and essays.

Hardy returned to Dorchester in 1867 because of ill health and soon began writing prose fiction for a living. His first really successful novel, published serially in 1874, was Far from the Madding Crowd. Others are Under the Greenwood Tree (1872); The Return of the Native (1878); Tess of the D’Urbervilles (1891); and Jude the Obscure (1895). His poetry includes Wessex Poems (1898) and Time’s Laughing-stocks (1909). The Dynasts (1903–08) is an epic drama in three parts.

Hardy viewed nature as a real power affecting the lives of his characters. His novels are realistic, but they resemble Greek tragedies in the way they show their characters as helpless victims of an unfeeling fate. Hardy’s sympathy for his characters, even when they had done wrong, caused some of his works to be condemned as immoral.

In 1874 Hardy married Emma Lavinia Gifford, who died in 1912. In 1914 he married his secretary, Florence Emily Dugdale. He died in Dorchester on Jan. 11, 1928. His ashes were placed in Westminster Abbey, but his heart, at his request, was buried in Stinsford, near his birthplace.

Compton’s Encyclopedia (Chicago, IL: Compton’s Encyclopedia, 2015).

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.com and for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

Booked draws on classics like Great Expectations, delights such as Charlotte’s Web, the poetry of Hopkins and Donne, and more. This thoughtful, straight-up memoir will be pure pleasure for book-lovers, teachers, and anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.

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