by Thomas Hardy
Stanza 4 Summary
Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
Thus I; faltering forward,
Leaves around me falling,
Wind oozing thin through the thorn from norward,
And the woman calling.
- The breakdown of meter continues in the last stanza of the poem, which goes a little haywire. All patterns are abandoned. It even looks different on the page.
- We imagine that the speaker is doing an intake of breath here—like he's about to sob about his lost loved one. This is how it feels to us: lines 13 and 14 are condensed (this is the intake), line 15 is like one big fast-paced sob, and then line 16 is quiet resignation. (Feel free to disagree with us on this one—you don't have to read these lines as a big weepy sob as we do.)
- Now that we've discussed form, let's dig a littler deeper. The speaker begins the stanza with the phrase "Thus I": it sounds like he's making an argument. It's very lawyer-ish.
- But instead of making an argument, the speaker starts to fall apart. He's "faltering forward;" the leave around him are "falling." Hear all those alliterative F sounds"? The speaker is starting to sound like he's losing steam.
- Then in line 15 the speaker acknowledges the "thin" sound of the wind—again, with a lot of alliteration ("thin," "through," "thorn") and now also some assonance, or repeated vowel sounds ("thorn," "norward").
- These short lines are compact and sonically-dense—so many repeated sounds. And these shouldn't surprise you. "The Voice" after all, is a poem all about sounds. How can we distinguish voices from the wind? The sounds of nature and (wo)men? Where do our senses begin and end?
- Then, in the final line of the poem ("And the woman calling") we return to the beginning of the poem, in a way. The speaker has been asking whether the woman is real—whether he hears her voice, or just the wind's—but in this final line, he seems to forget all of his doubt. He hears the wind in line 15, and in line 16, he hears the "woman calling"—making an ongoing demand that stretches into eternity.
- Then there's this "thorn from norward"—or, a thorn from the north. This seems to be a metaphorical thorn, not a literal thorn on a rosebush. In this line, the speaker equates the wind as a kind of thorn in his side—a pain or disturbance that he just can't shake off.
- Something else to ponder: the voice almost becomes part of the landscape in the final lines, as we suddenly get an idea of the speaker's body in space. He's faltering, surrounded by falling leaves, being blown over by the wind. In this last stanza, the landscape reflects the inner feelings of the speaker.
- T.S. Eliot (author of "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" and modernist poet extraordinaire) called this kind of symbolism the "objective correlative," in which something outside a person (here, the landscape) reflects the person's inside emotions (grief, faltering).
- Has the speaker gone nuts? Has his grief overwhelmed him so much so that he hears ghosts? Has he lost his ability to distinguish between fantasy and reality
- Or, is this a poem that really and truly believes in ghosts?
- The poem doesn't answer these questions for us, which is one reason why we love it so much. At the end of the poem, we're left with more questions than answers—and that's okay with us.