The Voice By Thomas Hardy Essay

“The Voice”

Woman much missed, how you call to me, call to me,
Saying that now you are not as you were
When you had changed from the one who was all to me,
But as at first, when our day was fair.


Can it be you that I hear? Let me view you, then,
Standing as when I drew near to the town
Where you would wait for me: yes, as I knew you then, Even to the original air-blue gown!


Or is it only the breeze in its listlessness
Travelling across the wet mead to me here,
You being ever dissolved to wan wistlessness,
Heard no more again far or near?


Thus I; faltering forward,
Leaves around me falling,
Wind oozing thin through the thorn from norward,
And the woman calling.

This poem by Thomas Hardy gives of an air of pessimism and apparent helpless but not because of physical incapacity but instead of a personal conflict involving another. The speaker is almost haunted by the thought of his lover looking for him or her but no longer being the same person that she was before. The speaker is not completely confident of his or her own abilities because his or her own thoughts are too fixated on the effects of the person, classified as “you” in the poem, and how they continue to afflict or confuse the speaker.

The repetition of the person calling to the speaker emphasizes significance of this action to the poem and also how incessant it is to the speaker. In the first stanza “you” is almost stressed every time that it appears yet “me” is not stressed, when reading this out loud it is evident that the speaker is more aware of the action of “you” than his or her own. There is slight consonance in the closing lines of the first stanza with the “w” sound and this sound is attached to words that reference time along with “who,” these sounds together mark the idea that the “you” in the poem that the speaker longs for is in the past or no longer exists.

The second stanza of the poem is more centered on the speaker and his own inquiries about “you.” There is a repetition of you throughout the lines but what stands out is where “yes” is stressed before and after a pause, the sound alone prepares for the exclamatory closing line of the stanza that highlights the speaker’s ability to actually make statements of his or her own about “you.” Also the rhyme scheme unites the “then” giving emphasis to all this being long gone and also the rhyming of “town” and “gown” point out the physical ties that remain of “you” but mark even more her absence.

The last two stanzas are the more drained stanzas that leave an empty feeling in the reader. The rhyming of lines 1 and 3 of the third stanza and the plethora of “s” creates a feeling of vast emptiness because they seem to just trail of the line. The rhyme scheme also leads to “here” and “near” popping out but although there are definitive physical locations, they mark how the speaker is confused as to where the woman is and where he or she stands. The final stanza continues this vein with a sense of indefinite movement but also has a powerful sound image in “wind oozing” which is paradoxical because the ooze sound makes the wind seem flaccid or dead. This mood allows the poem to conclude the poem melancholically by repeating that the woman is calling but no action is defined.

The Voice, written in the spring of 1913, is from a collection of elegies (a serious reflection, typically a lament for the dead), entitled “Poems of 1912-13.” These were written following the death of his frist wife Emma in November 1912, about which he felt great remorse, guilt, and grief. This poem was written in Cornwall, which he was visiting with his brother. This was also where he first met Emma.

What is happening?

Hardy remembers his dead wife. He believes he hears her voice, though later he is uncertain as to whether it is just the wind. He longs to go back to when they were young before their relationship started to fall apart.

General Overview

The Voice is composed of four quatrains, the first three being similar, with the fourth varying, with a change of subject and mood. The rhyme scheme is ABAB CDCD EFEF GHGH, which is a typical elegiac rhyme scheme. However, the rhythm is irregular, changing drastically in the fourth and final stanza. This irregularity reflects and highlights the writer’s grief, confusion, and emotional pain. The syntax is often awkward, reflecting his difficulty coming to terms with his wife’s death.

Woman much missed, how you call to me, call to me,

Saying that now you are not as you were

When you had changed from the one who was all to me,

But as at first, when our day was fair.

“Woman” immediately gives the poem a sense of distance and impersonality, or even unfamiliarity as well as describing the subject. The repetition of “call to me” has the effect of an echo, which not only foreshadows the onset of doubt later in the poem of the voice’s insubstantiality, but also harks back to the title with this idea of this disembodied “Voice.” The alliterative “m” sound in “Woman much missed” is soft and muted, revealing his subdued nature. In the second line the syntax is awkward, and the enjambement all the way through to the end of the following line is in complete contrast to the first line, which is very broken rhythmically, a contrast which highlights his confusion, and mental or emotional turbulence. He is saying that she has changed, relating to the deterioration of their relationship, and that he “miss”es the times when the day was “fair,” instilling a sense of painful nostalgia too.

Can it be you that I hear? Let me view you, then,

Standing as when I drew near to the town

Where you would wait for me: yes, as I knew you then,

Even to the original air-blue gown!

This stanza begins with a question. This is the first seed of doubt in the poem, but he continues with “Let me view you then,” as if trying to confirm to himself that it really is the voice that he hears. However, the repeated “w” sound in the third line, with its connotations of question words, and the subjunctive/conditional mood of “would” subtly undermines this, and increases the sense that it isn’t quite real. The exclamation mark, which finishes the stanza, shows intense emotion, which adds a pang of nostalgia to this fantasy remembrance that he describes.

These first two stanzas are composed mostly of monosyllabic words, which bring across an unresponsive, hollow, numb sense of grief. The exception to this is “original” in the last line, which perhaps lifts the mood with the immersion in this happier memory.

Or is it only the breeze, in its listlessness

Travelling across the wet mead to me here,

You being ever consigned to existlessness,

Heard no more again far or near?

“Or is it…?” This whole stanza is a question, enforcing the ever-deepening sense of doubt. The use of words like “listlessness” and “existlessness” are long, and the ending with the soft repeated “ss” sound aurally recreates the idea of fading away into existlessness, or also of listlessness, which despite describing the “breeze” here, really is describing himself in reaction to her death.

Thus I; faltering forward,

Leaves around me falling,

Wind oozing thin through the thorn from norward,

And the woman calling.

In this final stanza we have a change of mood, moving away from nostalgia and immersing in past memories, and coming back down to Earth, the harsh reality of life. “Thus I;” This caesura, only two syllables in, is almost like he can’t bear to even think about his current feelings, like it is too much to bear. He is “faltering forward,” the consonance of the “f” sound is like the pained exhalation of someone trying to fight back heavy emotion. The idea of leaves falling is out place, seeing as Hardy wrote this in the springtime. This incongruousness accentuates the feeling that this isn’t right, that this death shouldn’t have occurred. The third stanza’s “breeze” with its light, refreshing connotations, has suddenly become a “wind” that “oozes thin through thorn from norward,” a sickly image, with the alliterated “th” and long “or” and “oo” sounds which add to this effect. The image of the wind oozing is a horrible image, perhaps his repugnance at the realisation that he is being self delusory, and it is not his wife’s voice. And in the final line of the poem, the bitter distancing of himself “the woman” who is “calling” proves this woman not to be his wife, but this ‘woman on the wind,’ who is causing this episode.

 

By Arran Hope

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