Thomas Hardy’s poem “The Voice” is a short, four-stanza poem with an alternating rhythm scheme, the first and third, and second and fourth line of each stanza rhyming. The subject if the poem is a man remembering his lost love. As he walks around the places he went with her, remembering her, he imagines that he can hear her voice, before realising he is alone. The poem has a lonely, elegiac feel, and Hardy uses many linguistic techniques to achieve this.
The poem is entirely written in the first person, making it feel very personal, and the first three stanzas are directed to the lost love herself. This demonstrates that the speaker is alone and lonely; choosing to speak to a ghost and revel in fantasies of hearing her voice, rather than interacting with other people. He repeatedly uses the word “you” to refer to her, which reinforces the subject of his obsession. In the first stanza, the speaker looks back at his relationship.
He dwells on his loss, using alliteration in the first line, “much missed,” to refer to his feelings for her; and on his imaginings of her, shown by the use of repetition in the phrase, “how you call to me, call to me. ” However it is not the actual woman he can hear calling to him, but a fantasy of how their relationship was when they were first together and happy, or “when our day was fair. ” In the second stanza he asks a question, “Can it be you I hear? ” which may be a rhetorical question, or may literally be aimed at the voice he imagines he hears.
He makes a demand of the voice, going from an interrogative statement to an imperative one, before being carried away as he reminisces about their past. He repeats the idea of his memory or fantasy of her being the way she was when they first met, the second stanza’s “as I knew you then,” echoing the first stanza’s “the one who was all to me, as at first. ” He gives more weight to his memories and helps makes them more real to the reader by adding specific details, such as the fact she would wait for him at the town, and using the adjective “air-blue” to describe his lost love’s dress.
The use of the word air, while it can be used simply to describe a shade of blue, also evokes a feeling of impermanence and ghostly spirit; perhaps Hardy is comparing the airy colour of her dress to the airy spirit he is feeling around him. In the third stanza, halfway through the poem, the speaker comes back to reality, breaking his dream state by talking about more prosaic, real-life things: “is it only a breeze? ” However this rhetorical question could again be aimed either at himself, or at his love’s fading memory or ghostly presence.
He personifies the breeze with the adjective “listless,” which adds to the generally mournful air. He wonders about the breeze, describing its passage over the “wet” mead, which serves the dual purpose of bringing the speaker back to reality as he slowly lets go of his illusion, while the adjective “wet” adds to the generally depressing air and forms a contrast to his description of the happy days of their early relationship as “fair,” a word that can indicate both happiness and good weather.
As the speaker returns from his reverie into the real world, he shows how the illusion of his love is slipping away with the metaphoric imagery of her ” being ever dissolved to wan wistlessness. ” The alliteration of “wan wistlessness” reinforces the sense of loss that accompanies this idea of her slipping away from his mind and his memories as time passes. In the fourth and last stanza, the speaker is he was in the beginning, alone, trying to move on with his life, or as he puts it, “faltering forward.
This alliteration is by equal measures hopeful and despondent; it suggests he is trying to move on with his life, but is doing so hesitantly and unwillingly. He again uses descriptions of his physical surroundings to show the developing loss of his dream world: the leaves are falling, and the adjective “oozing” is used to describe the wind, a device that has the same affect as the use of “wet mead” in the third stanza.
Oozing thin” is also somewhat onomatopoeic and suggests that the wind is creeping or flowing like water, but slowly, perhaps hardly there, perhaps – given the next sentence, “I hear the woman calling” – carrying the aura of the speaker’s lost love. He no longer attempts to speak to her, referring to her in the third person as simply “the woman. ” And thus even as the speaker returns to the real world, attempting to move forward with his life and assign his ghosts to the past, he still feels her presence there, calling to him.