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Far from the Madding Crowd

From there we motor into Boscastle and Tintagel--the legendary birthplace of King Arthur--and hike Beeny Cliff, high above Pentargan Bay. It is easy to see how Hardy was captivated by Emma and by the enchanted lore of Cornwall. Despite the romance of their meeting, though, Hardy and Emma would never return together to this place. Their marriage deteriorated into a tense, difficult relationship. Emma lived out the last years of her life in self-imposed isolation at Max Gate. Hardy returned to Cornwall only after her death. There the solitary old man transformed their story into what is one of the most moving elegies in the language: "The Poems of 1912-13." These twenty-one poems acknowledge the estrangement in unflinching tones, but they also affirm the truth of love, of memory and of the place "by those haunted heights / The Atlantic smites."

I see what you are doing: you are leading me on
To the spots we knew when we haunted here together,
The waterfall, above which the mist-bow shone
At the then fair hour in the then fair weather,
And the cave just under, with a voice still so hollow
That it seems to call out to me from forty years ago,
When you were all aglow,
And not the thin ghost that I now frailly follow!
--"After a Journey"

As Hardy grieved for a vanished time in his own life, much of his work both celebrates and mourns a vanishing pastoral world. The rural workfolk, their dialect, their traditions, their songs and their stories suffuse all of Hardy's writing. Yet even in his time, people were leaving for cities and industrial jobs, and the hitherto timeless rhythms of a rural world were ceasing.

The drive through Dorset takes us through the seaside town of Lyme Regis, home of the celebrated novelist John Fowles. In an essay Fowles notes that between 1870 and 1914 a labor-intensive system of agriculture that linked people intimately to the land was converted "to the final and grim destination of the mechanized and monoculture farming, or agribusiness, of our own time." He adds that "a complete tradition of surviving in rural conditions" disappeared in this transformation.

Of course the old ways change, even in golf, and it does seem a loss that the American version of the game is making such startling inroads in Britain. A mechanized, technical approach to the game is beginning to prevail. More courses are abuzz with carts. New courses designed by Americans--Loch Lomond, in Scotland; Mt. Juliet, in Ireland; Oxfordshire, in England--are immaculately maintained but are largely the products of earthmoving equipment, not nature. Lakes and the slow play typical of American golf predominate. Pesticides keep the courses green and lush, and one rarely sees dirt--the dirt of the earth. A complete tradition of surviving, golf-wise, on rugged, unruly ground is disappearing.

But not everywhere. Industrialization in golf terms has been slower to reach Hardy country than it has the populated cities and newfangled resorts. One does see the odd golf cart--but it's very odd here, indeed. Pockets of the old ways in golf remain.

Saunton Golf Club, in Devon, with its East and West courses, is one of these places where the old ways persist and enhance the golfing experience. Saunton provides what English course architect Donald Steel once described as "majestic golf on some of the finest natural land you could find anywhere." The view from the white Saunton Sands Hotel that stands sentinel over the sea is enchanting. The courses spread out below, and the dune grasses shimmer in the early evening sunlight. As Steel has written, "Saunton's joys are unconfined." I certainly felt that way after playing the East course on a sunny afternoon when the wind was up and the ball was bouncing merrily along Saunton's firm links turf. By now I had seen a variety of weather in Hardy country. As Hardy wrote, "So do flux and reflux--the rhythm of change--alternate and persist in everything under the sun."

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