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The Voice(1914)

Thomas Hardy

Woman much missed, how you call to me, call to me,
MeterWoman much missed, how you call to me, call to me,
Saying that now you are not as you were
MeterSaying that now you are not as you were

Note on line 2: This line, like each even-numbered line in the first three stanzas, keeps basic faith with the dactylic tetrameter but exhibits double catalexis in the last foot (two slack syllables missing but implied, leaving just the stressed syllable as a toe-hold). The ghostly presence of these absent slackers is attested by the way a reader pauses at the end of the line — even when, as here, there’s no retarding punctuation to insist on it. The slowdown is more notable still in line 4, where the 3rd-foot trochee marks time by stretching its one slack to cover the interval of the expected two.

When you had changed from the one who was all to me,
MeterWhen you had changed from the one who was all to me,
But as at first, when our day was fair.
MeterBut as at first, when our day was fair.

Can it be you that I hear? Let me view you, then,
MeterCan it be you that I hear? Let me view you, then,
Standing as when I drew near to the town
MeterStanding as when I drew near to the town
Where you would wait for me: yes, as I knew you then,
MeterWhere you would wait for me: yes, as I knew you then,
Even to the original air-blue gown!
MeterEven to the original air-blue gown!

Note on line 8: Let’s hope this is the hardest line in all of 4B4V. The temptation to abandon dactylic tetrameter here and head for the territories is powerful; the key to resisting that temptation is the prosodist’s shady friend elision. By preference and also for programming reasons, 4B4V avoids elision wherever possible, but here it’s just not possible. A sloppy dactyl can be made out of all those early syllables by means of two elisions: “Ev’n” for “even,” and “th’ ” for “the.” These changes turn five syllables into three and yield two feet: EV’n to th’or | IG in al. That leaves half a line to go: a strongly syncopated but still legal spondee in the 3rd foot, and a (by this point ordinary) terminally truncated catalectic 4th. Be proud if you got this one even as soon as your third try; it has taken 4B4V that long at least! Consider, finally, how a remarried old man’s airbrushed memory of his first wife, long estranged and since dead, might represent something of a third try, too; also how the line bears up under the freight of emotion and memory, its elided slack syllables hurrying up to the great spondaic billow of the image at the end of the line.


Or is it only the breeze, in its listlessness
MeterOr is it only the breeze, in its listlessness
Travelling across the wet mead to me here,
MeterTravelling across the wet mead to me here,

Note on line 10:Another tricky line, where again scansion is enabled if you elide “Travelling” from 3 to 2 syllables (“Trav’ling”). That gives you two falling feet (dactyl, trochee), in keeping with the overall tilt of the poem’s faltering-forward meter.

You being ever dissolved to wan wistlessness,
MeterYou being ever dissolved to wan wistlessness,
Heard no more again far or near?
MeterHeard no more again far or near?

Thus I; faltering forward,
MeterThus I; faltering forward,

Note on line 13: Another surprise: Hardy changes his tune for the final quatrain, reeling between trimeter and tetrameter, grasping at straws, and leaving it up for grabs whether the prevailing meter in these last four lines is still dactylic, as a conservative scansion might properly find, or retrenches instead as 4B4V proposes to blunter trochaic. More important than choosing between metrical options is sensing the complex rhythmic interplay they enable, torn as the speaker is between talking himself out of the belief that he’s haunted and talking himself back into it.

Leaves around me falling,
MeterLeaves around me falling,
Wind oozing thin through the thorn from norward,
MeterWind oozing thin through the thorn from norward,
And the woman calling.
MeterAnd the woman calling.

Note on line 16: “And” is a particle that almost never takes stress. Its doing so here is eloquent: Hardy concedes, in the spirit of stanza 3, that he must be imagining things; yet the “And” insists on the reality of what stanzas 2 and 3 have imagined so loyally. It’s just the wind. AND it’s my dead wife.


Rhyme

Resources

  Click the link above to hear the poem read by Classic Poetry Aloud.
Show Stress    Foot division    Syncopation