Sunday Poetry: The Voice, by Thomas Hardy

The Voice

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 consigned to existlessness,
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.

by Thomas Hardy

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This morning, I visited a church north of the river, and sat in front of a couple, perhaps in their 70s. During the homily, I heard the woman whisper urgently, “Joe, say something to me.” Her whisper grew more urgent and panicked, and I turned to see her trying to get her husband’s attention, while he sat there staring ahead vacantly. I was right in front of him – my eyes met his, but there was no reaction. “He’s not here with me,” she said in a voice choked with fear and disbelief as friends gathered around her and took Joe from the pew.

I assume it was a stroke, and I hope and pray that Joe, whoever he is, regains his complete faculties. Medicine has improved vastly since a stroke stole most of my father from me in 1982. But what I heard and saw was two lives torn suddenly apart in a quiet moment at church.

Thomas Hardy’s poem stems from regret about the sudden loss of his wife. From what I’ve read, theirs was a marriage that had lost its luster for decades. When his wife died, he was filled with regret that he had not loved more deeply.

This poem employs an unusual dactyl rhythm – DAH duh duh – in the first stanzas. It enhances the “enthralled” state of the speaker as he daydreams his dead lover’s voice. At the end, though, choppy trochees and tongue-twisting assonance and alliteration reflect the difficult realization that the speaker is alone, and his lover is gone.

Hardy yearned for the opportunity to relive his life and devote more attention to his love. I hope that Joe and his wife have the opportunity to share future golden moments, and, if not, I hope that they don’t regret failing to love fully during the time they had. It’s a lesson we see time and time again, in life and in literature.

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