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.
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