One of the best ways to improve your own craft is to learn from the experts, so I figure looking at some expert writers--authors, poets, lyricists, screenwriters, etc.--will help all of us aspiring writers. In one of my classes we recently studied Thomas Hardy, so I figured he was a good one to start with.
Though you most likely know him as the author of Tess of the D'Ubervilles, I'd like to look at his poetry. First of all, poetry is shorter, second of all, Tess of the D'Ubervilles is just...not easy. So to give you a glimpse of his poetry here is a snippet of one of his best poems, 'The Darkling Thrush'
'At once a voice arose among
the bleak twigs overhead
in a full-heated evensong
of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
in blast-beruffled plume,
had chosen thus to fling his soul
upon the growing gloom.'
Why I Love Him
Almost everything he writes is negative or pessimistic. Sometimes it is just so refreshing to hear someone really say how they feel, but what I love about his sad tone is that it is so passionate and intense; he is almost desperate to the point of hopefulness. Like in the poem, it talks about this frosty, grey, gloomy, hopeless place and the frosty, grey, gloomy, hopeless character in it. And then this little ragged bird starts singing, and you get the feeling Hardy is desperate to find someone or something that feels hope, even if he can't feel it himself. Its sort of a desperate pessimists cry for optimism, and even though he is so pessimistic, that makes me happy. In another one of his poems, 'Neutral Tones', he writes the line "alive enough to have strength to die", and I think that describes Hardy's level of hope. He has enough hope to live, but just barely. And thats where I get the desperate voice that draws me in so intensely.
He is such an incredible crafter of words. From the one word level (how great a word is 'Darkling'), to phrases--'fling his soul.' Every word is emotionally fraught and meticulously chosen.
His insight on humanity is incredible. In 'Tess,' even the way he describes her mouth is insightful. Tess' lover is describing her lips, and he says, "Perfect, he, as a lover, might have called them off-hand. But no--they were not perfect. And it was the touch of the imperfect upon the would-be perfect that gave the sweetness, because it was that which gave the humanity." How awesome is that? It makes me feel so much better about myself and life. And all he was doing was describing a country girls mouth.
Why I Don't
Almost everything he writes is negative or pessimistic. Sometimes its just really difficult to get through it. It can just be so depressing, because there seems to be no hope. But you can find hope if you look hard enough.
Some of his dialogue is a little ridiculous. Not that I'm in any position to really critique the writing style of Thomas Hardy, and I'm sure every word of his dialogue was purposeful, but it can just be frustrating sometimes. Which, I'm sure, is exactly what he wanted.
Have you read Thomas Hardy? What did you think of him? If not, if you feel up to the challenge I think his brilliance is worth the temporary depression and difficulty.