‘The Voice’ by Thomas Hardy

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
Traveling 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.


20 thoughts on “‘The Voice’ by Thomas Hardy

  1. ‘The Voice’ is one of the extraordinary group of poems
    written by Hardy between 1912 and 1913 after the death
    of his first wife, Emma. It is well documented that their
    marriage, especially in later years, was not a happy one.
    Nevertheless, her death was a real shock to Hardy.
    He had not anticipated it and may well have felt guilty about
    the lack of care he showed when she first became ill. He

    ‘I wrote just after Emma died, when I looked back at
    her as she had originally been, and when I felt
    miserable lest I had not treated her considerately in later life.
    However, I shall publish them as the only amends I can make.’
    He also wrote in a letter: ‘In spite of the differences between us,
    which it would be affectation to deny, & certain painful
    delusions she suffered from at times, my life is intensely sad
    without her.’

    In his bereavement, he often pictured Emma
    as she was in earlier years.

    The poem is written using the second person, addressing the
    deceased woman herself. Much of the impact of the poem derives
    from its metrical complexity and its extended rhyming system: consider
    how the rhythms communicate and define the poet’s changing emotions.

    Stanza 1: The syntax is quite convoluted but the sense clear, that is
    that the dead woman is trying to tell the poet that she is now like she
    was when they first met and they were in love, rather than the person
    she had become in later years.

    Stanza 2: While the poem mostly concentrates on the woman’s voice,
    we see here a poignant attempt at conjuring up from his memory a
    visual image of his wife, in a specific locality associated with his earlier
    deep feelings for her.

    Line 11: wistlessness: a coinage by Hardy. The word ‘wistful’ is
    common enough.Its primary meaning is ‘closely attentive’.
    So probably, the word ‘wistlessness’ suggests a ‘fading away’.

    Line 13: Thus I: introduces an image of the poet’s state of mind
    as his brief vision of his wife fades.
    Line 15: thorn: any bush with thorns, or perhaps, in this context,
    many bushes like brambles. There is no need to be specific; it is a
    metaphor for his state of mind.
    Line 15: from norward: from a northerly direction

    a. Consider the change of tone in the third stanza: how does the
    poet’s mood change and why? How is this communicated so strongly
    to the reader, and what does the image of the breeze means?
    b. How does the layout of the last stanza differ from the others, and
    what visual image is created?
    c. How does the last line of the poem affect the whole poem?

  2. Thomas Hardy, an English poet whose work typically belongs to the Naturalism movement wrote the poem, THE VOICE. Hardy was fascinated with the supernatural and wrote quite a lot of poems displaying elements of the Romantic and Enlightenment periods of literature. Hardy wrote this poem after his wife Emma Lavinia Gifford’s death which had a traumatic effect on Hardy.
    * The poem begins with the lines;
    “Woman much missed, how you call to me, call to me,
    Saying that now you are not as you were”,
    immediately introducing the notion of a sense of loss. Even from these lines we know that Hardy is unable to accept his wife’s death. Hardy and his wife were deeply in love at first but later they faced problems in their relationship which slowly grew sour. Hardy had an affair with his secretary Florence, who was 39 years, his junior. This was the main reason for the problems which the couple had.
    *Furthermore, Hardy was quite guilty after his wife’s death because he could not take proper care of her before she died. Just like in his poem ‘Haunter’ Hardy tries to imagine that his wife is trying to communicate with him. In his imagination, Emma tells him that she is not the woman who she was forty years ago, but she has changed without Hardy’s realization.
    *Even in the second stanza, Hardy implores Emma to appear to him, in the place and wearing the same clothes- “the original air-blue gown!”, that he associates with their early courtship. In the third stanza Hardy does admit the fact that Emma does not exist anymore and he says that now the only thing he hears is the wind and that his wife is “dissolved” and will be “heard no more”. “Whistlessness is a coinage probably meaning ‘closely attentive’.
    *In the final stanza the desolate mood of Hardy is captured as he falters forward, while the leaves fall and the north wind blows, as Emma continues to call. “Leaves around me falling” refers to a time when he does not have any expectations or ambitions. The poem begins optimistically with a hope that Emma is really addressing Hardy. But by the end, a belief or fear that the “voice” is imaginary has replaced this hope.

    1. This is amazing, thank you so much for this it has really helped me prepare for my exam and its got amazing detail in the analysis.

  3. The ‘call to me, call to me’ is like an echo which is ghostly. ‘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.’ Hes saying that she was not young when she died, but now, as he hears her, she has morphed back into her young self to when they were courting and in love. ‘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!’ Doubt is growing inside him, for now he is asking for proof of her voice and evidence of her that she cant give. He looks back to when they would meet and she wore his favourite blue dress. But if you haven’t noticed, he’s only thinking about her when she was young and beautiful. He is not asking to she her as the woman she died as, but the young attractive girl her fell in love with. Thomas Hardy believed that love was about physical attraction, which is why he had an affair with his young secretary. He is not apologizing for treating Emma badly for the later years of their marriage, but rather thinking to when she was young, naive and beautiful and almost begging to her her there again. To see her young again, to when he actually loved her.
    ‘Or is it only the breeze in its listlessness Traveling across the wet mead to me here, You being ever dissolved to wan wistlessness, Heard no more again far or near?’ Pretty self explanatory, really, Wistlessness was a worn her created himself to be able to rhyme something with listlessness. He has accepted that it was just the winds sounds creating what he thought was her voice. Shes being dissolved, shes dead. No new memories of her will be formed in his head, so she is ‘being ever dissolved’ from his mind. Her voice will never be sound again, even in the breeze. She is dead and gone. Final confirmation.
    ‘Thus I; faltering forward, Leaves around me falling, Wind oozing thin through the thorn from norward, And the woman calling.’ Very dramatic. Very: ‘oh, look at me! My wife died. Feel sorry for me!’ Saying that without her, he’ll stumble forward, when really, he wont. But his guilt for how he treated her is too much and now he can’t bare it. The leave around him falling is very dramatic. When leaves die they fall of the tree and the wind carries them away. Emma is dead the the wind, to him, is carrying her voice to Thomas Hardy. The breeze carries her all around him. Reminding him of how awful he was. ‘Wind oozing’ A cut often oozes blood and an infection oozes puss and other awful things. Very negative imagery. Emma’s death death is like a wound to him. But instead of it leaking blood, he’s oozing guilt. Norward is a north wind and the north wind is the strongest wind of them all. ‘The woman calling’ could mean that he’s hearing her voice again from the wind, which was just a breeze, but is now a harsh and the most strongest wind. Or is could be that her voice is being blown away. She’s calling but no one is there.

    I hope that was a good analysis for you. Some of it is what my English teacher thought of and told my class, some of which I came up with. But you can trust me because I get A*’s on all poem essays. I hope I wasn’t too late.

    1. Well, I must say that it is a completely different way than my teacher explained it (in a good way). Thanks for giving me another point of view of the poem. Good response

    2. hey im going to copy some bits of this to use for my mindmap as i have a test coming and its about the haunter and voice poem(emotions) 🙂 P anyway that essay is amazing :D! well done and thnxs

  4. “The Voice” was Thomas Hardy’s response after the death of his wife. He had felt guilty for not caring enough when she was ill. To relieve himself of his pain, he wrote poetry and we can see his grief and distress from many features of his poem.

    Firstly, the poem begins and ends with the “Woman calling him.” Her voice is like a continuing echo, which creates the sense of longing and desperation. She never lets Hardy go of his misery. Even when Hardy comes to the conclusion (in Stanza 4) that the voice must be the wind mocking him, he is still confused by The Voice. This cycle and continuation shows the difficultly and pain for Hardy to forget her and for him to move on with his life. It is one of the reasons for the confused tone conveyed throughout the poem.

    Secondly, Hardy makes use of various figurative devices to reflect his feelings. Stanza one and two talk about “our fair days”. He uses calm and happy phrases to show their period of love. The Woman’s “air-blue gown” has connotations with summer and the happiness it brings. However, stanza three is completely the opposite. The words “breeze”, “wet mead” and falling leaves all resemble an autumn environment. It creates a negative tone and it is as if Hardy is “dying” along with the plants and life of nature. His soul is distressed by the happy memories they had together.

    Moreover, the Woman is described as if she will “dissolve to wan wistlessness”. This means that she will disappear into air, or continue life as an empty soul. Although Hardy’s memory of her is fading, she still haunts him like an everlasting ghost.

    Furthermore, the alliteration used in stanzas three and four create a contrast of the both situation both Hardy and the Woman was in. Although the alliteration “wan wistlessness” may have negative meanings, but the repetition of the “w” sound can be linked with romanticism. It is like the sound of a flowing river. Hardy’s alliteration of himself is “faltering forward”. The “f” sound, however, is an uncomfortable sound and has rather clumsy connotations. The Woman is living life fine, but Hardy’s life is still a long road he still has yet to overcome.

    Lastly, the structure of the poem is effective in conveying Hardy’s distress. The tone in the beginning two stanzas is slow and cheerful. He starts off by asking a rhetorical question, asking if it is her. Then, he takes his time to reconcile and gape at his memories of their time together. The word “yes” shows his excitement and gaiety. However, the word “Or” quickly changes the tone. It is a sudden turn in structure. He snaps out of his euphoria and ends the stanza using another rhetorical question – but in a totally different tone. He begins doubting his dreams and faces reality. Also, in line four, he used “our day”. In Line 13, it is now “I”. The word I stands out, representing himself, alone and empty.

    In conclusion, Hardy clearly wrote this poem to express his distress and grief. Hardy missed her wife much and although he comes to the conclusion that she’s gone and he should move on, he still yearns for her. For most of the time, the tone is mostly negative and Hardy is confused at what he is doing. One interesting thing to point out is Hardy’s refusal to name the Woman. This could show his refusal to accept her death and that she’s gone. It could also mean that the Woman is no longer her wife and she has disappeared. She isn’t real anymore. That could be the reason why he hears the Voice, because he thinks of her all the time. Her memory will take a long time to “dissolve to wan wistlessness” and Hardy can only “falter forward” with his life.

  5. I think wistlessness is a coinage to contrast with wistfulness. Wistfulness is a state of yearning, or nostalgia. Hence wistlessness implies a lack of yearning, a lack of desire. In the poem, the speaker’s desire finds no reciprocation in the dead — which becomes an internal voice once the sounds are explained non-romantically as merely incursions of the natural world. The change of address from ‘you’ in the opening to the implicit third person of ‘the woman calling’ in the close underlines the bleakness of the speaker’s experience — the revivified voice, clothed in the vivid colours of memory, is turned finally to wanness, bloodlessness, immateriality.

  6. A Critical Analysis of Hardy’s The Voice
    Prepared by Omar Osman Jabak

    Thomas Hardy is known to be a transitional poet between classicism and romanticism. In this short poem, he is lovelorn or lovesick as he tells us a wonderful story in miniature. It is a love story, though not a successful one. As the poem implies, Hardy’s beloved has deserted him and their love seems to have been no more than calf love especially on her part. This sad experience, however, puts Hardy in a state of uncertainty.

    In the first stanza, Hardy is about to leave his town when he imagines a voice calling him from afar, and he hastens to think that it is his beloved’s voice calling him to come back. However, in that emotionally tense moment, he remembers that his lady has unfortunately been a fair weather lover. This indication is clear at the end of the stanza when he says” But as at first, when our day was fair.” Then he asks to see the woman who utters this voice to make sure that it is the same as his beloved’s. Again, he starts recalling the old good days when she used to wait for him at the outskirts of the town. It is clear that Hardy misses her a lot.

    Then he wakes up to the fact that this is the sound of the wind blowing. In this stanza, he realizes his nostalgia, and he feels that there is no voice calling him. It is a voice he wishes for. That is it. Because he is obsessed with the image of his mistress waiting for him over the hills, he can’t imagine himself deprived of her.

    In the last stanza, as Hardy is moving forward to continue his journey out of town, he hears leaves drop on the earth and the wind blow around. He thinks that this voice calls him back. So the poem ends exactly the way it begins. The poet misses his beloved very much; perhaps his love for her is true and beyond any doubt.

    The poem is replete with descriptions that appeal to almost all the senses as if Hardy wants to make us share his experience with all our senses. He also uses some stylistic devices so as to make this poem sound like a lyric or a song. Alliteration and assonance seem to run all through the poem ( much missed / would wait / is it / in it / wan witlessness / faltering forward / thin through the thorn are all examples of alliteration ) and ( view you / knew you ) are examples of assonance . Besides, the repetition of some fragments such as ” call to me, call to ” in the first stanza is light on the ear and appears to be melodious. In addition, the rhyme scheme ( a b a b) that runs through the whole poem has a musical impact on the reader in order that he/she interacts with the poem. So both the form and meaning of the poem are so beautifully interwoven so as to bring about the overall effect of the poem on the reader.

    In a word, I personally think that ” The Voice ” is a pictorial lyric miniaturizing a pretty long love story that unfortunately does not culminate in perpetual happy marriage due to the beloved’s desertion. Yet, the poem reflects Hardy’s sincerest passion for his lady and highlights his nostalgia for the old days with his beloved. In fact, Hardy excels in putting his mixed feelings into a terse poem, and lucky are those who can give voice to their feelings so concisely, but beautifully!

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