I first came across this poem many years ago. I’ve never been a devotee of Hardy. As an undergraduate I tackled Tess of the d’Urbervilles; I found it utterly compulsive, emotionally exhausting, but slightly mechanical—at every key moment in the story, Tess has a decision to make, and after a while you get the idea that she’s not going to make the right one. A few years later I tried Jude the Obscure; after about a hundred pages I figured out that things were going the same way, and decided to quit while I was marginally ahead. But what can be wearing about Hardy’s novels can sometimes be astonishingly powerful in his poems.