Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
Woman much missed, how you call to me, call to me,
- We're gonna start off real slow with "The Voice," because Hardy packs a whole lot into this first line. Let's start off by listing what this line tells us.
- First, we have an unnamed speaker who is speaking. (See how easy that was? This will be a piece of cake!) Though the speaker is definitely a Hardy-type guy, we will call him "the speaker" anyway ('cause there's no way of knowing the degree to which this poem is autobiographical).
- So, our speaker is speaking to a "woman much missed." Why is she missed? The poem doesn't tell us (though we know from Hardy's life that this poem was inspired by the death of his estranged wife, Emma Gifford).
- Still with us? Good. It's about to get tricky, cause, even though the woman is dead, the speaker says that she "call[s] to [him]." We are now entering creep city.
- When a speaker of a poem addresses a dead, non-existent, and/or inanimate person or object, we call this an apostrophe. (Nope, not the handy dandy punctuation mark). An apostrophe is a form of address (or type of speech) in a poem.
- Our speaker's apostrophe is sounding a bit desperate. The repeated phrase "call to me" makes it sound like he's pleading with the dead woman—like he wants her to be calling him.
- That second "call to me" even sounds like a command, like he's issuing an imperative: Call to me, dead lady!
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.
- In the next three lines we get a little back story on our desperate speaker friend. And it's a little muddled, so we'll take this slowly, too.
- In line 2, the speaker is still asking the woman to call to him, and specifically, he wants her to say that now (in death) she is not as she used to be.
- But then in line 3, he gets even more specific, and says that the way she used to be was changed from how she really used to be in the distant past.
- So, we've got a bunch of timeframes at play here, and the woman meant different things to the speaker at different times. Here's a little chart:
- Distant Past = the woman was "all" to the speaker.
- Recent Past = the woman is "changed" from how she was "at first," which means that she is presumably no longer "all" to the speaker. ("At first," the couple's "day was fair," which is really a metaphor. The speaker's not talking about the weather here; he means that their relationship was going strong.)
- Present = the woman is missed.
- So, the speaker in these lines is lamenting for the distant, not the recent past.
- Now that we've got the basics down, here are some more things to think about:
- The poem is rhymed! It's got a pretty traditional ABAB rhyme scheme going on. By that, we mean that lines 1 and 3 rhyme (A), and lines 2 and 4 rhyme (B).
- But one cool thing to note about the rhymes is their extent: there are three syllables at the end of all the odd-numbered lines that rhyme. (And that's a lot; usually only one or two of the syllables will rhyme). This is called a triple rhyme.
- Check it out: "call to me" (1) and "all to me" (3). That's some commitment to rhyme, Hardy. For more on this technique, check out "Form and Meter."
- You may have a different opinion, but these rhymes seem a bit overboard to us. We'd even go as far as calling them contrived. There's something unnatural about them. But hey: what counts as "natural" in a poem about ghosts?
- But what's even more interesting about the poem's form is that it's got a crazy meter (also known as rhythm) going on. It's written in something called dactylic tetrameter. (We know: oy vey! But don't fear. Instead, swing by the "Form and Meter" section for more details).
- For now, just know that this crazy dactylic tetrameter feels like a waltz that's more than a little dizzying. What makes it especially dizzying is the fact that all of the even-numbered lines are two syllables shorter than the odd-numbered lines. This has the effect of making us feel like we're teetering on a ledge, about to fall over it, at all times.
- In fact, the way we feel when reading the poem (confused, dizzy) is pretty much how the speaker is feeling throughout the poem. Good work, Mr. Hardy!
- You have succeeded in making us all just a little weirder than we were yesterday.