The Voice Hardy Essay

You can read ‘The Voice’ by Thomas Hardy here:

Thomas Hardy wrote ‘The Voice’ after the death of his first wife, Emma. They had grown apart during the later years of their marriage, with Hardy and his secretary having an affair through Emma’s illness, which eventually killed her. Paradoxically, on losing her Hardy was overcome with guilt for his neglect. His love for Emma was rekindled and he felt terrible sadness. The poem, written primarily in the first person, is about an illusion of Emma’s voice heard by Hardy after she passed away.

Hardy uses a number of techniques in conveying a sense of loss in ‘The Voice’. It starts in his powerful opening to the poem, ‘Woman much missed’. It is clear from the outset that the poem is one of lamentation. He directly addresses his dead wife, showing the potency of her presence to him. The repetition: ‘how you call to me, call to me’ is suggestive of the urgency and desire he feels on hearing her, and displays how insistent and incessant the voice is in his mind.

Hardy believes here that Emma is telling him she has reverted to the way she was when they first met, when she ‘was all to me’, as he puts it. This demonstrates his longing for her, and for the love they shared at the beginning of their relationship.

The second stanza has the feel of a ghost story. Hardy longs to see Emma because he can’t be sure that she is real: ‘Can it be you that I hear? Let me view you, then’. He wishes that she would appear to him, and again he wants an apparition of her as she was before they became estranged, ‘standing as when … you would wait for me: yes, as I knew you then, even to the original air-blue gown’. The ‘air blue gown’ is suggestive of wind, which links into the next stanzas, but also says something about the delicacy of his delusion in that moment. In that brief time he can hear her voice calling to him, but is as unable to hold onto it as he is to hold onto the wind.

In the penultimate stanza doubt begins to set in, ‘Or is it only the breeze’. The entire section is one long question, emphasizing his growing uncertainty. There is also lots of sibilance, with words such as ‘listlessness’, ‘across’, ‘dissolved’ and ‘wistlessness’ being used. These are an onomatopoeic imitation of the sounds of the wind, showing how the breeze may be mistaken for a calling voice, and thus we believe that the voice is just Hardy’s imagination.

The final stanza demonstrates a collapse of his illusion via a collapse of the structure used in the poem until this point. The first three stanzas had a rising iambic and anapaestic rhythm, suggestive of the hope Hardy felt at the possible return of his wife. That hope had been fuel to him for the first part of the poem, but now it has gone, and as he breaks down, a breakdown in the syntax also seems inevitable. Lots of caesura and endstopping is used to create a faltering rhythm, in keeping with Hardy ‘faltering forward’. This phrase suggests that even though there is no hope of Emma coming back, Hardy cannot help his love for her, but because she is gone he can take no comfort in this love. Life forces him onward, but his renewed feelings for his dead wife keep him stumbling. There is also the imagery of ‘leaves falling’, and ‘wind oozing thin’. This suggest that winter is coming, the leaves are dying, and the wind which fuelled Hardy’s illusion is becoming still. This bleak scene matches the mood of the poem at this point, and emphasizes the fact that there is nothing for him now that Emma is gone.

Because of the effectiveness of the techniques Hardy uses, the sense of loss – both of the woman and of the delusion that kept her present – in this poem is overwhelming. The impression of a baron landscape at the end, when Hardy comes to realise that Emma has truly left his world sums up the emotions tied in with being lost as to how to cope with the death of a loved one.


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This Post was posted in Analysis, Essay, Poetry, Thomas Hardy and tagged Analysis, Bereavement, Death, Emma Hardy, Essay, Hardy, Loss, Poem, Poems, Poetry, Regret, The Voice, Thomas Hardy, Voice. Bookmark the permalink.

Notes On "The Voice" By "Thomas Hardy". A Poem Which Is Used In As Literature: Poetry Section

Hardy was an old man of 72 when he wrote this poem recalling the early days of his first marriage, which was a happy time for him and his wife, Emma. Her death provided him with material of the deepest personal significance and the "Poems of 1912-13", from which this work came, are his most personal utterance and most typical poems - often touching, as they do, on the inexorability of time and the meaning and inevitability of suffering. His first wife changed as she grew older, however, believing that she had married beneath her, and she and her husband did not speak to each other for a long period of time. Here, hardy describes his feelings of grief at her death, and wishes they would relieve the past and be re-united. Finally, he reveals his feelings of despair and hopelessness at what life has become for him.

The first stanza begins by expressing his grief at the loss of his wife ('much missed") and his sense that she is calling out to him. The repetition of "call to me" suggests the insistent, unceasing and unwearying effort she is making to reach him - an effort which must, in reality be an indication of the strength of his longing for her rather than of her yearning for him. Her voice is a projection of his mind, the result of a mixture of his own memory, imagination and desire, but his sense that she is calling him is so powerfully felt that he almost seems to hear her speaking, at first.

He imagines his dead wife saying that she was no longer the person she had become later in life but had returned to being the person she had been in the early days of their marriage, when they were happy ("our day was fair") and she was the dearest creature in his life ("the one who was all to me").

He refers obliquely to the fact that she had become estranged from him ("you had changed from the one..."), and juxtaposes and balances it against the happiness at the beginning of their marriage (when their "day was fair") in such a way as to allow neither sentimental nostalgia nor bitterness to distort the truth. The rhythm of this stanza is fairly mellifluous and the stanza, with its run-on lines, flows and scans easily, suggesting the poet's complete acceptance of, and immersion in, the total grief that comes with uncomforted loss. The dignified restraint and simplicity of the words in the first line enhances this sense of sorrow.

The question at the beginning of the second stanza conveys his growing sense of wonder and doubt that the "sound" he hears is indeed the voice of his wife. It implies the recognition of a disparity between what he remembers of and what he wishes her to be. The imperative which follows seeks an answer, and reassurance, by requiring her to appear as she used to do when he returned from a journey and found her waiting for him. His eagerness to see her again is conveyed in the word "yes", And in his reference to a still vivid memory of a dress...

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