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.
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
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.