Sometimes lines of poetry fall so beautifully into place that they repeat in the back of your head with a sound like the sea. I spent our two anniversary days in Edinburgh (which were so lovely I’ll get around to writing about them one of these days) with two lines of Hardy swishing maddeningly back and forth. Maddeningly, because I could only remember the first two lines. I considered texting my friend who specialised in Hardy in our first year of university and begging for the rest of the stanza, but decided, on reflection, to keep my oddness to myself.
That poem, though. The alliteration in ‘Woman much missed’, forcing the speaker to linger over the missing. The wistful, dreamy motion of the rhythm, a ballad-like dactylic tetrameter, and then the faltering, forlorn uncertainty as the final stanza stutters to a halt, the reality of the woman’s absence crashing in on the speaker. Apparently Hardy wrote it for his recently deceased first wife, whom he didn’t like all that much when she was alive. By all accounts Hardy was just the sort of dour, perverse kind of chap who would spend a lifetime ignoring his wife and then rhapsodise heartbrokenly over her absence. Thankfully the rather uncomfortable history behind the poem doesn’t alter its resonance. You read it, and all you can do is pause and ‘ooh’.
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
Traveling 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.
Go on. Let it out. Oooh.