The Voice by Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardy wrote the poem “The Voice” to remember his departed wife.  The poem shows that he was full of remorse for the way that their relationship had developed in the later years.  He is also haunted by his guilt in the way he treated her.  He feels that she is continually calling to him; he is not sure whether his is imagining her voice when he says, “Can it be you that I hear?” or maybe “Or is it only the breeze…?”.  This feeling of regret and confusion is conveyed through a carefully constructed poem of regular rhyme, mournful sounds and eerie images.  This leaves the reader with a vivid impression of the depth of his feelings of regret towards his wife.

The poem consists of four stanzas which are constructed around a regular rhyme pattern of abab.  The rhyme pattern conveys a sense of relentlessness as if the memories are tied to Hardy and he cannot shake them free.  The rhythm of the poem is slow and methodical and is developed through the long lines of first three stanzas.  This slow rhythm reinforces the sad tone adopted by the poet.  The last stanza continues the rhyme pattern but breaks the pattern with short lines that have a stuttering rhythm.  The change in the stanza indicates the way that the poet is coping without his wife; he is staggering on, consumed in his grief and regret.

The first stanza begins with the simple but powerful phrase, “Woman much missed”.  The phrase is so concise, but conveys feelings of regret and mourning so powerfully.  Further the alliteration of the “m” sound is a sad downbeat sound which supports the meaning of the words. Hardy feels that now she calls to him.  The repetition of “call to me” suggests that it is haunting him and now he is becoming obsessive about her.  The voice he hears is saying that she has “changed” but is “at first”, in the early of their love when she was “all to me”.  Clearly he was deeply in love with her in the early stages of their marriage.  It was a time when “our day was fair”, the use of “our” stresses their togetherness.  Hardy seems now to be regretting how the later years of the relationship developed and now realizes how much he really felt for her.

The second stanza begins with a hopeful question, “Can it you be that I hear”.  Perhaps he hopes that she is trying to communicate with him or perhaps the question is more an expression of his confusion mixed with hope.  He remembers when they used to meet in town when he says “Let me view you then”.  He is reminded of when she would “wait” for him, suggesting that they were both eager to see each other.  The use of “yes” shows his delight at this memory. He says he knew her “then” which suggests that he knew her in a different way than in more recent times. His memory is detailed and vivid because he specifies the exact colour of her “air-blue gown”.  The stanza is made a tight unit by the internal rhyme of “hear/near” and “view/drew”.  Even the end rhyme is cleverly constructed with multiple word rhyming structures; “view you, then / knew you then”

The poet is unsure whether he has actually been hearing her voice because the third stanza has a tone of uncertainty.  This is reinforced by the stanza being one long question.  Maybe it is just the “breeze” that he hears.  It is a breeze of “listlessness,” which suggests it is loose and weak, as it travels across the “wet mead” to him. The poet is confronting the reality of his wife’s death in this stanza, the reality that she has gone forever.  The weakness of the breeze fits with the word “dissolved” he uses to describe her death, suggesting that her spiritual presence is gone, being absorbed into the universe.  This together with the “ever” strongly creates the idea that she is unable to return.  The action of her death is “to wan”, which is to grow weaker, this word is combined with the intriguing “wistlessness”.  It seems to be a word created by the poet with the meaning of “inattentiveness”.  The meaning is suggestive, but the sound is definite.  The “w” sound of the alliteration and the sibilance of “wistlessness” recreate the sound of the breeze and this creates an impression of her non physical, ethereal presence.  He closes the stanza with the sad thought that her voice will be “heard no more again, far or near”.  The finality of that thought is underlined by the all inclusiveness of the statement with the piling up of “no more”, “again” and “far or near”

He begins the last stanza with “Thus I”, showing that now he will turn his attention to his present situation.  Because (“thus”) she is gone forever and he realizes that he can never make up for the breakdown in their relationship, he is left here to be “faltering forward”.  Faltering has the idea of staggering and the stuttering sound of the alliteration supports that thought. The image of the falling leaves suggests decay and on-coming death as autumn gives way to the winter of his own death. The contrasting short lines works together with the meaning and sound as well. The cold “norward” wind will be his lot from now on.  The wind is surprisingly “oozing thin”, which seems oxymoronic, both thick and thin at the same time.  The idea seems to be of the force of the wind to chill him but it is also so thin that it cuts through the thorn (hedge) easily making him miserable.  The description of the wind has the idea of discomfort and hardship, which is suggestive of his future life.  The last line is chilling; he is almost haunted by his memory of his wife.  She is “calling”, the present continuous tense means that her memory, and also his regret as result, will be ongoing and even unrelenting.   The simplicity of the last line powerfully and memorably captures his final feelings; loneliness, regret and desperation.

The poem then is a carefully constructed piece of art that bears timeless testimony to the plight of many people who grapple with the mystery of death and have to live with the consequences of personal mistakes that can never be rectified.  Hardy has composed a poem that has memorably captured this experience of the human condition.

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