Week 520: The Voice, by Thomas Hardy

This week another of those poems that I have not featured before on the assumption that everyone at all interested in poetry must already be familiar with them, but maybe with the modern educational curriculum this assumption is no longer justified, so just in case…

This is one of a sequence of poems that Hardy wrote in memory of his dead wife Emma, expressing a grief sharpened by regret for their long estrangement, and it is a poem that champions of Hardy’s verse like to point to as evidence of his greatness. I don’t know how helpful labels like ‘great’ really are when it comes to poetry: personally I tend to think of poems more in terms of being alive or not, as having or lacking that rare electric pulse of truth and urgency. But greatness – I suppose I would say that it is something to do with a unique voice, gifted with the power to create a new verbal landscape and through an intense fusion of thought and emotion expressing a truth both personal and universal. And I certainly wouldn’t deny it to Hardy at his best. Curiously, or perhaps significantly, T.S.Eliot loathed Hardy. Huh.

mead:             meadow
wistlessness:     this appears to be a Hardy coinage, that for me fuses the idea of ‘no longer knowing or being known’ (from the pseudo-archaic verb wist, to know) with the idea of no longer feeling desire (by analogy with wistful, that means ‘longing, yearning with little hope’)
norward:         the direction of the north

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.

Thomas Hardy


3 thoughts on “Week 520: The Voice, by Thomas Hardy

    • I wonder if you are thinking of the following lines from Kipling’s poem ‘Merrow Down’:

      ‘For far – oh, very far behind
      So far she cannot call to him,
      Comes Tegumai alone to find
      The daughter that was all to him’.

      That has the same ‘call to’/‘all to’ device, and is also an elegy, in this case for Kipling’s beloved daughter Josephine, who died of pneumonia aged seven. It’s a bit of an odd one because Kipling chooses to write it in the person of an Ancient Briton – perhaps a first person effort would have been too painful – and it could be accused of a certain tweeness, but I find it quite affecting.

      If you feel this isn’t what you were thinking of I’ll go back to the drawing-board.

      • Yes, that’s the one, I remember the story behind it. My father used to quote it to me. Very moving, whatever one may feel about Kipling ‘s politics

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s