An Atheist Writes a Poem: Thomas Hardy’s “Hap”

“Hap”, by Thomas Hardy, was written in 1866 (when Hardy was 26 years old) and published in 1898. The poem is a brief and Job-like meditation upon suffering, theodicy, and “dicing Time”—but without the hope that there might actually be a God to bring POETIC JUSTICE—to set things right.

Ironically, Hardy’s poem is an atheist’s attempt at rhyme and reason directed at a world that, by all appearances, has neither:

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.

Hardy, as an atheist, sees that, without God, there is no court of complaint for natural evils—for they are “purblind Doomsters”—that is, the products of contingency (chance). And yet, were God to exist, this does not help either, for then for what purpose could God possibly permit so much evil to be in the world?

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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14 Responses to An Atheist Writes a Poem: Thomas Hardy’s “Hap”

  1. volubrjotr says:

    Poor Hardy was intoxicated by the pablum of evolutionism, perhaps he should have read real science and history.

    This is a little body count from the without God Crowd.

    http://www.digitalsurvivors.com/archives/communistbodycount.php

    What set this right? War waged by Christian dominated people. True war is not a good thing and useless but it did stop Nazism, Communism, Slavery, & Fascism, all of which were Atheist driven Doctrines.

    • Anonymous says:

      ironically these doctrines only arose after suffering indifference and ignorance in a christian dominated world. The most balenced world-affairs enviroment exists today….when christianity is on the down

    • Anonymous says:

      Ooh… I’m too late on the discussion – no matter.

      Anyways, your little count there – it’s all containing the bad side of communist policies. The US government uses communism – taxes to pay for public schools, government aid to businesses (also done under Bush), and there’s more. Communism is a good thing, if it is practiced correctly.

      What about all of the deaths due to Christianity? Those ones are easy to tally up. Witch hunting, the Spanish Inquisition, slavery (most slave-owners were Christians), and, worst of all, the Crusades. Children as soldiers – by the Catholics.

      And don’t say that just because you’re Protestant or some other descendant of Catholicism that those numbers don’t apply to you, because then your numbers wouldn’t apply to me, at least 10% of America, 83% of Sweden, and so many more intelligent people.

      I just don’t get it. How can you disprove so many scientific findings, such as prehistoric creatures and the carbon-dating used to find the time period in which they lived and when they died? How can you say that man has not evolved when you see behavioural changes all of the time in people, and the Neanderthals’ bones that we’ve found?

      I know that your response will probably have something to do with “faith” (if there is a response), and how “you just have to believe, and put your trust in God”. But I did, and for a long time, too – I tried to make things work, science with religion, but it didn’t fit – I didn’t get through the Adam and Eve story without finding myself lost.

      If you say, too, that I cannot disprove the Bible, then you are right – I cannot disprove the whole thing, I am not the Doctor. However, I would like you to disprove Harry Potter or the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy or Star Wars, especially Star Wars. The thing is – you can’t. Once fiction is written, you cannot disprove it (minus the “fiction” disclaimer). I would like you to think about that.

  2. makarios says:

    “what purpose could God possibly permit so much evil to be in the world?”

    Are you serious? You really can’t discern any purpose or good that can and does come from the presence of evil?

  3. santitafarella says:

    Makarios:

    The degree of evil is important here. If there is a God, what possible higher good is served in his permitting such evils as earthquakes that swallow tens of thousands of people, or allowing the Nazis to set up death camps like Auschwitz?

    If there is a god, and s/he is all powerful and all good, then what do we make of Pompeii and Dachau? Couldn’t god have stopped such horrors?

    —Santi

  4. volubrjotr says:

    God has allowed us to exercise our free will in this opportunity of second chance. The second chance is based upon what is spoken of in the Bible and before that The Tradition.

    We are now to live outside of time where there exist entropy and we either exist for ourselves or Our Lord.

    God so loved the World that He gave His only begotten Son.

    Remember, that the World hated Him first and that those who follow Him will expect the same. Jesus Is the One who created the World outside of time, where there exists entropy.

    Your trial here is based upon vouchsafed by God (free will)…God does not do the robot thing.

    Evil is (always) metaphysical and can NEVER be quantified. A man can subscribe to evil intent and or fall subject to it by evil designing men.

    Gad has interrupted and held bound the laws of physics through intercession/miracles. These are quit rare and validated through the strictest peer reviewing measures in the world. Metaphysical apparitions, cures, locutions, are increasing through out the world as we speak.

    To suggest one day science will unravel everything is to deny epistemology and or Prime Mover in all things being paramount the rational of the brain/mind.

    The watch cannot ever make the watchmaker as with Modern Science developed by the Catholic Bishop of Paris Nicole Oresme. Science will never be able to unravel Oresme.

    The axioms of Science was developed only to tack the Hand Of God and is a testing procedure for the mind to decide if a process if Good or unbeneficial for mankind.

    That thought process is of the Mind and not the brain(chassis), which decides Good from unbeneficial. Science is a tool much like currency, it can be abused or used for the betterment of mankind.

    • Anonymous says:

      Why do you cite Christian rhetoric? Do you really think about whether the bible even makes sense to you? I suspect you are not a true believer but rather, someone going through the steps to get to heaven. This is essentially a list of things you have been told to believe. Where is the self-discovery? Might I add, Religion is also a tool. It can be abused or used for the betterment of mankind. Think about all the people killed in the name of religion. If everyone truly loved their neighbor would this happen. To quote Ghandi, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ.”

  5. aunty dawkins says:

    Santi
    Hardy is reiterating here the philosophy of Heraclitus who correctly recognised the decisive influence of hazard or chance in earthly existence.The human need to rationalise and explain this uncomfortable reality leads Hardy to a pessimistic melancholy. It is the lack of reason and rational explanation for life’s uncertainty that gives rise to Hardy’s complaint here and he cries out for a God power to take this burden of uncertainty from him.

  6. David says:

    Communism and Nazism were evil at an inimaginable sacle ’cause they were DOGMATISMS. The same applies to religions. Atheism is not a doctrine. It does not exist as a creed. It is the simple negation of God.
    Hitler expressed himself repeatedly as a christian (MEIN KAMPF) that tried to “fulfill the works of Jesus”, and Stalin studied in a seminary and thaught seriourly about becoming a priest; and all nazis armies had their own christian priests that blesses the troops. Christianity, Islam, Communism, Nazism are dangerous because of their specific disdain of reason and facts as a way to make decisions (Luther called reason “the whore”).

  7. volubrjotr says:

    Of course atheism is a doctrine/creed, see Humanist Manifestos 1 & II. Irrespective of existing while enumerating their world view in a doctrine/creed, the very fact that their world view is to be lived w/o believing in God, is their religion. Religion = World View, nothing less nothing more, religion is not sanctimoniously tied to God. See “In God We Trust”, it is not a State advocation of religion, but it is an impartation of Inalienable Rights.

    Hitler pandered Christianity until 1939 and all the while in this timeline of political career he was murdering Catholic Priest surreptitiously. This was making way for his ‘coming out of the closet’ as a ruthless fascist. After 1939 with only a few exceptions, Hitler did not hide his hate of Christianity..

    The denominations of atheism aka; humanism, paganism, secularism, communism, marxism, evolutionism, & fascism have murdered more people on this planet than any other religion. Evolutionism was the one of the doctrines of Hitler and evolutionism in the name of museums nearly wiped out all of the aborigines via ‘harvesting’ for specimens.

    The logic & reason imparted in these ruthless religions of atheism held no morality, pragmatism, beauty, or a barometer for right and wrong. These religions were only forced to obey Laws of Morality which found their basis in Christianity and prior to the fulfillment of the Torah, found in the dictates of Tradition while waiting for the Messiah.

    All Law abiding people have called atheism the scourge of the world rising to its utmost ugliness in Hitler’s ovens, Pol Pots killing fields, Lenin’s Gulags, Mao Tse Tungs genocide, Stalin’s Gulags, Ernesto Guevara’s genocide, etc etc.

  8. santitafarella says:

    volubrjotr and David:

    I agree with “volub” that atheism tends to run in certain intellectual circles, but I would accept David’s narrow definition of atheism, and emphasize that atheism and agnosticism do not have to lead to totalitarianism (obviously). Thomas Paine did not believe in gods and he is a revered member of the American democratic pantheon (as an example).

    —Santi

  9. santitafarella says:

    Anonymous:

    You asked, How is theodicy relevant to Hardy? Please read Hardy’s poem again. It is a Job-like meditation on the senseless nature of suffering, and who (or what) brings it: “How arrives it joy lies slain?” But it is also ironic. Unlike Job, Hardy, as an atheist, cannot blame God for suffering, but dicing chance, which he imagines a worse bringer of suffering. If there were a God (for Hardy), he could, at least, find an object for his resentment.

    —Santi

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