"A Muse in Tatters": Hardy's Poems and Ballads

12 Jan 2018

Henry Thornton Wharton’s Sappho collected and translated for the first time “all the one hundred and seventy fragments that [Sappho’s] latest German editor thinks may be ascribed to her” (xiii-xiv). Beneath three translations of what Wharton listed as fragment 68, the poet Thomas Hardy pencilled his own version – which he would later publish as “Sapphic Fragment” in Poems of the Past and the Present – onto the foot of the page (see fig. 1).1 “That one day,” Hardy went on to explain to Algernon Charles Swinburne in 1897, “when examining several English imitations of a well-known fragment of Sappho, I interested myself in trying to strike out a better equivalent for it than the commonplace ‘Thou, too, shalt die’ &c. which all the translators had used during the last hundred years.” The letter continues: “I then stumbled upon your ‘Thee, too, the years shall cover’, and all my spirit for poetic pains died out of me. Those few words present, I think, the finest drama of Death and Oblivion, so to speak, in our tongue” (Letters 158).