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Thomas Hardy's Poem "The Voice"
The title of Thomas Hardy's poem "The Voice" reveals a lot about its mode of delivery. The audible whispers of the woman calling, calling are conveyed to the reader through literary devices such as rhyme and rhythm. The voice of the woman is translated into the voice of the poet. "The voice" of the woman becomes a symbol of the narrator's memory, which is tainted by illusion and attachment to the past. The poem does not reek of sadness, however. The mood of the poem remains lighthearted and jovial, evident in the imagery, rhythm, and rhyme scheme. Hardy cleverly paces his lines and stanzas so that the central theme and imagery of "The Voice" become integrated with the language, structure, and tone of the poem. The sentiment of missing someone, of longing for a lost lover through the contented lens of the present, is delivered through rhythmic stanzas that uplift the spirits. The narrator is not dwelling on the past or regretting any action that might have ended the relationship. Rather, he hears "the voice" of his old lover in the loveliness of nature. This proves his positive association of his ex-lover with the beauty of nature. This sentiment is aptly conveyed through skillful implementation of poetic devices. Although the subject of the poem is the literal and figurative voice of the woman, a presumed lover, the underlying meaning points more to an emotional response and sentimentality. When read aloud, "The Voice" comes to life, as does the voice of the female subject of the poem. Whereas the narrator initially associates the language of the breeze to be a psychic impression of his lost lover, he accepts concrete reality by the end of the verses. "The Voice" is a multi-sensory poem, embodying its romantic sentiment through dramatic pacing, musical rhyme schemes, and deliberate syllabic structure.
In his natural surroundings, the narrator envisions and hears his lost lover. She is "much missed." This fundamental fact is made clear in the first stanza of "The Voice," underlining the importance of the relationship. The narrator is estranged from the woman whose voice he hears. She was "the one who was all to me," the narrator's soul mate. However, there is no indication of the nature of the breakup. She could be dead or with another man; she could simply be away traveling. Regardless of the actual situation, the narrator longs for times past, "when our day was fair." The present moment is not bleak, but the past offers rich memories. Before the remainder of the poem is read, it would seem as if the narrator is simply hanging on to a hopeless romance. Clearly, this is not the case. Although he becomes aware that he is "faltering forward" by the end of the poem, the narrator does not seem lost or emotionally distraught. Rather, he appears briefly distracted by "the voice." The voice is probably "only the breeze, in its listlessness / traveling across the wet mead to me here." Although the narrator hopes to hold his woman in his arms, as she was "at first, when our day was fair," he eventually realizes that the "woman calling" is just a figment of his imagination. It is easy to assume that he longs for happier times in the past because the opening stanza clarifies his feeling: the woman is "much missed," and she calls to him, calls to him. The sounds of nature inspire him and remind him of the past. His ideal romance was somehow thwarted, and his natural surroundings evoke the loveliness of his lost lover.
The Voice" is a decidedly aural poem. Surprisingly, there is little visual imagery within its lines. "The original air-blue gown" is one of the only visual images contained within Hardy's stanzas. Remarkably, this omission of visual imagery adds to the sensory impact of the poem in general. The reader is able to form unique pictures of the surroundings of the poem, including the "leaves...falling." Obviously outdoors, the narrator is fixated more on the sounds of his environment than its colors and shapes. This ironically imparts extra shape to the poem itself. Each stanza of "The Voice" is four lines long. In total, the poem contains four stanzas, making it a square, even, and symmetrical poem on the outset. However rhythmic and calculated Hardy's poem is, however, it is not entirely symmetrical. The first three stanzas each begin with lines of twelve, ten, and twelve syllables each. However, the first and third stanzas end with eight syllables, while the second stanza ends with an eleven-syllable line. Furthermore, the final fourth stanza stands out from the rest, containing lines with seven, six, ten and six syllables each. The differentiation of the last stanza from the rest of the poem must reveal something about its significance to the whole.
The fourth and final stanza, which contains fewer syllables per line than the other three stanzas, resolves the poet's feelings about "the voice" he hears. The fourth stanza begins with the word "Thus," indicating conclusion. The poet, "faltering forward," finally realizes that the voices he hears are mere figments. The sound he hopes is the woman's voice is merely the sounds of nature around him. The meandering lines of previous stanzas describe the hopeful nature of the poet's longing. Moreover, the fourth stanza is not as structured as the previous three. Although all four stanzas in "The Voice" are written in rhyming couplets, the last stanza contains irregular syllables. The pacing of the poem thus culminates with a terse resolution of sentiment and sound. Yet the final phrase of "The Voice" is "And the woman calling," uniting it with the first line of the poem. Thomas Hardy creates a circular, geometric poem that proceeds organically.
The life contained within Hardy's lines is particularly evident in the third stanza: "Or is it only the breeze, in its listlessness / Traveling across the wet mead to me here, / You being ever dissolved to wan wistlessness, / Heard no more again far or near?" First, the word "wistlessness" is a neologism, an artificial word created by Hardy for lack of any existing appropriate word. This indicates the poet's ability and willingness to participate in the organic creation and evolution of the English language, his vehicle for expression. Hardy's choice of words, his diction, becomes an extension of his love and his longing. "Wistlessness" might be a play on the word "wistful," which means longing or yearning. The poem "The Voice" is essentially a poem about longing and yearning, expressed and vocalized in extraordinarily audible poetic terms. That Hardy chose to create and implement a new word is no accident. Furthermore, the word "wistlessness" fits perfectly within the rhyme and rhythm scheme of the third stanza. "Or is it only the breeze, in its listlessness" rhymes with "You being ever dissolved to wan wistlessness," and each of those lines contains twelve syllables each.
The third stanza is full of life also because of its imagery and content. Like the bulk of "The Voice," the third stanza is a multi-sensory passage. "The breeze, in its listlessness" evokes the palpable feeling of a breeze, but with the added dimension of listlessness. A listless breeze is an apathetic one, a breeze without motivation. Here, reality begins to dawn on the poet. Whereas he once hoped that the voice belonged to the actual woman, he senses in the listless breeze that the voice is unreal. It is a memory only, her being "dissolved." Again, the sensation is tangible, as much felt as it is heard. The visual imagery in this passage moves swiftly: Hardy is not describing a stationary image, item, or thing. Rather, the poet portrays movement: a "breeze...traveling across the wet mead...dissolved." The wetness of the mead is yet…[continue]
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