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Chance, from "Hap," a poem by Thomas Hardy

Subthemes: Randomness of Events, Good or Bad Luck, Opportunity, Probability

Hardy’s cri de cœur, “Hap”, bemoans the inexplicability of joy and sorrow. He regrets that no explainable force, not even a vengeful god, doles out good and evil, because Hap could then bear the undeserved wrongs. No, he regrets, unfeeling and remorseless chance haphazardly strews our lives with events that pain our pilgrimage.

“Hap” by Thomas Hardy

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.

Randomness of Events: Does our life have meaning and explanation or is it that

—Crass Casualty obstructs the sun and rain,
And dicing Time for gladness casts a moan. . . .?

Hap finds no explanation for How arrives it joy lies slain. No sadistic god unblooms the best hope ever sown. Instead, the dearth of joy mutters only existential meaninglessness. No reason for the loss; no prediction; only dicing Time. We must resign ourselves to accept the coin-flips of life as part of its blooming, buzzing confusion.

Can we make sense of why a spouse dies of pancreatic cancer or a relative wins the mega lottery? What can we blame for the ice patch of ice that slipped a car to ruin or the subtle bulge on the ski slope that destroyed a knee? We can dissect the dissolution of a marriage but much of the sadness seems to be inflicted senselessly. Crass casualty intrudes beyond our ken.

Good or Bad Luck: We can little guess the fortuity of outcomes. “It was bad luck that the final lottery number wasn’t a three”. “Your horse stumbled once on the final stretch – bad luck.” “If your dog’s collar hadn’t slipped off at just that moment…” Of these chance events, neither a deity nor justifiable reasons account for when or why, but rather dicing Time randomly sprays each turn of events.

Being in the wrong place at the wrong time constitutes the worst luck imaginable. The innocent child cut down by a stray gang bullet is an example. Too often we can’t comprehend why unblooms the best hope ever sown. On the brighter side of chance, somebody draws the low draft number, somebody’s bingo card fills up first, and a rare few of us win the genetic lottery and bloom with remarkable athletic or musical skills. However, our most fundamental and formative good or bad luck results from our parents, as when one child is born into silver spoons and peerage privileges while many others enter into a world of poverty, illness, and struggle. Most of the world’s poor or lonely or handicapped suffered from conception blows of bad luck. Dicing fate casts us our parents and all that follows from them.

Opportunity: “May you live in interesting times!” It is not better to be lucky than good over the medium run; put your money on competence because competence can seize the chances of opportunity. “Chance favors only the prepared mind,” said Louis Pasteur. Regression to the mean occurs even if chance intervenes from time to time.

When life endows someone with many choices (education, careers, spouses, mobility…); when opportunities to make money present themselves from emerging technologies, innovative service models, changes in the laws, or business complexities; when someone is blessed with ability, ambition and discipline – chances are chance will smile on them. Out of multiple choices over time, more combinations of doors can be opened and by good fortune a fortune lies behind the door. By contrast, if someone must follow in their father’s labor, if someone lacks education and money and their community enforces long-standing traditions and social strata such as those that extinguish women, if someone’s talents are modest, then their lot in life is set. Their chances of advancement languish.

Probability: When the possibilities can all be counted, the probability of a particular outcome can be calculated, such as rolling a six with a dice or firing the one bullet in an otherwise empty chamber. That ratio of the number of specific outcomes (one six, one bullet) divided by number of total possible outcomes (six for both), is called a probability. The results will exhibit a mathematical distribution if the die is rolled or the trigger pulled (after spinning the chamber) several times. Similarly, we can calculate the odds that two people in a group of people share the same birthday. We understand and can explain the chance’s statistical likelihood.

 

Hardy’s poetic complains that he could withstand deliberate, inflicted unhappiness but less so brutal randomness – the continual sway of unpredictable events that permeates life. Where is the morality in living in a world dictated and buffeted by chance?

To consider subthemes that are not derived directly from the poem, rock song, painting, and movie covered individually in posts about Chance, enjoy these additional subthemes. Read this for more about Themes from Art.

We invite you to read about other poems discussed on this blog, and their themes. Here they are:

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