The Faltering Voice of Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardy was a highly influential English poet who was deeply influenced by the great poets of the Romantic era, such as William Wordsworth. Hardy did not begin as a poet and trained as an arcitect in Dorchester before moving to London in 1862 to attend King’s College London. Hardy’s work was heavily influenced by his personal relationships, including an emotional estrangement from his first wife, Emma Lavinia Gifford, and her eventual death. The poem, “The Voice,” seems wrought with this influence in both content and form.


The poem itself relates the anguish of a narrator who imagines hearing the voice of an absent lover. He imagines a “Woman much missed,” (1)  wondering “Can it be you that I hear?” (5). He dejectedly attributes the voice to the wind and asks, “is it only the breeze” (9). The relationship has clearly suffered some staggering blows and the narrator laments about his lover “saying that now you are not as you were” (2). This poem tells the story of the lingering emotions of a once great love that can now only exists as a spirit in the wind.

The best part about the poem is how effectively the form and structure mirror the heartbreaking content. The poem’s unique rhythm creates a strangely stilted,  lyrical quality that draws the reader into the turmultuous emotional experience of the narrator. The first three lines of the poem follow the same rhythmic pattern, but the last line of the stanza seems like it is missing a few beats. This unexpected skipping of beats continues throughout the rest of the poem. It seems as if the rhythm is “faltering forward” (13) in conjunction with the irregular path of the narrator. The emotional experience becomes one full of inconsistencies and mixed feelings, as reflected by the interrupted rhythmic pattern. We can also infer that just as the narrator is missing the woman, the poem itself is missing its parts.

Alliteration and assonance also contribute to the song-like quality of the poem. Lines such as “much missed,” “would wait”, “wan wistlessness,” “thin through the thorn,” and “view you/knew you” create the sense of an intentional song or voice that the narrator himself is experiencing. Repetition also serves this purpose as early as the first line, “call to me, call to me” (1). Every aspect of the form seems to resonate with meaning in this poem, culminating in the reader’s very vivid sense of both the voice and the narrator’s reaction to the essence of his estranged lover.

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One Response to The Faltering Voice of Thomas Hardy

  1. Prof VZ says:

    Excellent close reading–I appreciate how you traced the interanimating qualities of form and content here. One question though: what do you mean when you say Hardy is a transitional figure between classicism and romanticism. Those are Hulme’s terms, and not as relevant to Hardy, I think. Ramazani notes that Hardy is pitched between late romantic or victorian sensibilities (in his use of traditional forms and meditations on nature) and a modernist twist, which see Hardy as more pessimistic, more ironic, and more variable in his language (introducing the non-poetic at times). Feel free to go back and clarify this important point. Also, you as far as formatting is concerned, you might try to introduce a picture of something else to help the post pop a bit.

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