Thomas Hardy and his first wife Emma had long been estranged when she died in 1912: her death prompted a series of poems which are viewed as being among his best work.
In “The Voice”, which deals with love, death, grief, and memories, the poet aments over the loss of his beloved, whose presence is felt all around him.
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 dissolved to wan wistlessness,
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.
The poem describes his desire to hear again his dead wife’s voice, and suggests that this longing might even delude his senses.
In the beginning the poet looks back at the time when their relationship started, and imagines her voice telling him that she is back to being the same as she was at the beginning of their romance, before she changed.
He also wishes to lay his eyes on her as she was as a young woman and
even remembers the clothes she wore when they first met (the ‘original’ blue gown).
But then he realizes that what he hears is not her voice, but only the breeze blowing over the meadows. His love is gone, “dissolved” into nothing, no longer capable of thinking or knowing, thus unable to hear him and respond.
The illusion created by his recollection has vanished and he sees the world as it is again. In his solitude and the desolation of the present he stumbles forward into a dreary autumnal season where a cold north wind makes its way through the thorny landscape.
Yet in the last moment he cannot help but keep a little piece of hope alive when he once again hears a sound that resembles the voice of his dead wife ‘calling’ to him.
Donna che manchi tanto, ti odo chiamarmi
e dirmi che ora non sei più com’eri
quando t’eri fatta diversa da quella che amavo,
ma com’eri all’inizio, quando i nostri giorni eran leggeri.
Sei tu quella che sento? Lascia che ti veda, allora,
in attesa come quando tornavo in città
dove tu eri ad aspettarmi: sì, proprio quella che conoscevo allora,
persino con lo stesso abito azzurro cielo!
O è solo la brezza, che nella sua indolenza
attraversa i campi bagnati per giungere a me,
mentre tu sei dispersa per sempre in un’esangue indifferenza
e non più udita da lontano o da vicino?
Ora io procedo vacillando,
tra le foglie che mi cadono intorno
e il vento del nord che debole filtra tra i rovi.
E la donna sta ancora chiamando.
Image: Giovanni Fattori – 1880-1885 – La libecciata (The wind of Libeccio)- Galleria d’Arte Moderna, Firenze