Until Geoffrey Hill started giving voice to his detractors --- 'obstinate old man', 'obnoxious chthonic old fart', 'rancorous, narcissistic old sod' --- the most self-indicting of modern poets had been Thomas Hardy. Both Hill and Hardy embody in their works what Blake called 'The Accuser who is the God of this World'. Hardy's celebrated 'Poems of 1912-13', a series of elegies for his dead wife, vacillates between guilt and excuse, as first the Accuser and then the defence gets the upper hand.
Hardy's 'Poems of War and Patriotism' from his 1917 volume, Moments of Vision, are similarly fraught, although the conflicts tend to take place between poems rather than within them. Decent and dutiful verses like 'Men Who March Away' and 'A Call to National Service' are juxtaposed with poems like 'A New Year's Eve in War Time' describing horrors, griefs and self-doubts.
Among the greatest of Hardy's poems is a lyric titled 'I Looked Up From My Writing'. It is the final poem of the sequence, and it denounces everything which has preceded it. The Accuser wins by pointing out the Neronic culpability of anyone writing poetry in time of war. Or perhaps the poet wins even in the act of condemning himself, because what he does with that accusation---grotesquely, callously, opportunistically, joyously--- is turn it into yet another poem:
I looked up from my writing,
And gave a start to see,
As if rapt in my inditing,
The moon's full gaze on me.
Her meditative misty head
Was spectral in its air,
And I involuntarily said,
'What are you doing there?'
'Oh, I've been scanning pond and hole
And waterway hereabout
For the body of one with a sunken soul
Who has put his life-light out.
'Did you hear his frenzied tattle?
It was sorrow for his son
Who is slain in brutish battle,
Though he has injured none.
'And now I am curious to look
Into the blinkered mind
Of one who wants to write a book
In a world of such a kind.'
Her temper overwrought me,
And I edged to shun her view,
For I felt assured she thought me
One who should drown him too.