Annual Wreath-Laying Ceremony at Thomas Hardy's Tomb
In a poignant annual tradition, a gathering of some dozens assembled at Westminster Abbey on the 13th of January to pay homage to Thomas Hardy, whose ashes, along with a sprinkling of Wessex soil, rest in Poets’ Corner.
The wreath-laying ceremony is an amicable but solemn gathering around Hardy's tomb to mark the anniversary of his death. This much-loved event, a moment of reflection and literary respect, is organised by the Thomas Hardy Society, and brings together admirers and literary enthusiasts to honour Hardy’s legacy. This year's wreath, a handsome creation by Shirley Churchill, the churchwarden at St Michael’s, Stinsford, was crafted from yew and otherwinter foliage, sourced from the churchyard of St Michael’s which is the resting place of Hardy’s heart.
The service was presided over by the Reverend Dr. James Hawkey, Canon in Residence at Westminster Abbey. In spite of the buzz of tourists, the atmosphere was one of quiet respect as those present listened to the welcoming address, which was followed by the ceremonial wreath-laying.
As part of the ceremony, attendees were treated to readings of selected poems by Hardy, all highly apposite, and powerfully communicated by the readers. The poems we heard were "Domicilium," its imagery of the wild Dorset of old suggestive (like the wreath) of nature transcending time, and "The Man He Killed", a Boer War poem, thought-provoking at this time of international conflicts, which explored the discomforting truth of a man being willing to fire upon one he might another time have considered his fellow. "Wessex Heights" harmonised with our Abbey surroundings, portraying the lingering presence of those long-gone, while "The Darkling Thrush", always fitting for the start of a year, recalled the frosty air that had embraced us as we journeyed to Westminster that afternoon; its visions of ‘joy illimited’ and ‘blessed Hope’ transitioned seamlessly into the Canon’s prayers.
These prayers included a plea to "illuminate and inspire… all writers and poets," an apt tribute to Hardy's enduring impact on the literary world.
As the ceremony concluded, those present were left with a sense of connection to Hardy's literary spirit and a renewed appreciation for the timeless themes embedded in his poetry.
Dr Philip Irwin
All day event
Starts 11:15 until 19:00
Starts 18:30 until 20:30
Starts 11:00 until 20:00