Another gem from First Known When Lost.
To state the obvious (and to sound high-falutin' at the same time): a successful work of art is the product of the keen observation of minute particulars transformed by a receptive, contemplative imagination. This thought is prompted by a visit to Thomas Hardy's poetry this past week.
People who met him, and recorded their impressions, nearly always mention two things: his eyes and his quiet, kind, and diffident manner.
"I could scarcely imagine those steady eyes 'in a fine frenzy rolling'; nor would I have expected their calm gaze either to conjure up the beauty of Tess or to read the mind of Napoleon. But if Hardy did not wear his Muse upon his sleeve, there was yet in the very inconspicuousness of his appearance something unobtrusively impressive. This impression deepened as I watched him. The high, broad forehead was very fine; the expression in the initiated, resigned eyes, unforgettable. They looked as if nothing could ever surprise them again. They were sad eyes -- very sad -- but unflinching, as though, after long sorrow, a certain serenity had been arrived at.
It was about four o'clock when [J. M.] Barrie and I arrived at Max Gate, and we sat talking over the tea-table until seven. I had been told that Hardy was the most unassuming, the least pretentious of talkers. He certainly was an uncompetitive talker. He seemed to have no desire to impress, persuade, or even amuse, but just to like uncontentiously to exchange ideas in the simplest possible words. Yet he never said anything that was not to the point, and you could not fail to become more and more aware of his extraordinary perceptivity. 'That man,' Barrie had said of him on our journey down, 'couldn't look out of a window without seeing something that had never been seen before.'"
Cynthia Asquith, "Thomas Hardy at Max Gate," quoted in Martin Ray (editor), Thomas Hardy Remembered (Ashgate 2007), pages 243-244.
Lying Awake - Thomas Hardy
- You, Morningtide Star, now are steady-eyed, over the east,
- I know it as if I saw you;
- You, Beeches, engrave on the sky your thin twigs, even the least;
- Had I paper and pencil I'd draw you.
- You, Meadow, are white with your counterpane cover of dew,
- I see it as if I were there;
- You, Churchyard, are lightening faint from the shade of the yew,
- The names creeping out everywhere.