Here's what you need to know about Thomas Hardy to understand "The Voice": Hardy was born in 1840 and he married his wife, Emma Gifford, in 1874. They had some good times at first, but eventually they grew apart and became completely estranged from each other. Then, in 1912 Emma suddenly up and died. Our dude Thomas was totally traumatized. He hadn't spoken with Emma in ages, and he never got the chance to say goodbye to her. He had very complicated feelings about Emma while she was alive (as in, he kinda sorta hated her for a long time) but, now that she was dead, Hardy has no idea what to feel.
So, what did Hardy do? Well, he sat down and wrote some poems, of course. And, let's be honest here: Hardy's poems about Emma's death are some of the best poems in the English language. (Anyone want to argue with us? No? Okay good.) His poems are awesome not because they are filled with love, exactly, but because they are filled with so many mixed emotions: longing, regret, anger, fondness, bitterness—pretty much every human emotion you can think of.
Oh, and there are ghosts.
Well, one ghost. In his Emma poems, Hardy is constantly imagining that he hears the voice of his dead wife, and sometimes he stages entire conversations with her ghost. In "The Voice"—which came out in Hardy's 1914 collection of poems, Satires of Circumstance—the speaker of the poem can't tell if the sounds that he hears are the winds blowing over the cold British moors, or, if they're the voice of his wife back from the dead. Ooooooo.
Hardy accomplished tons of interesting things in his life, and we just love his novels, too. Check out what we've got to say about our favorites here and here. But we think you're all set to tackle "The Voice." Hold on to your hats, gang; thar be ghosts!
Have you ever loved someone? And, at the same time, kind of hated 'em? Sure, love is a many-splendored thing, but let's be honest: sometimes love stinks. And sometimes the person that you once loved and made googly eyes at kind of stinks, too. So, what are you supposed to do with all of these mixed emotions? Can you love someone and hate him at the same time? Is it possible to mourn the "old" version of someone, while hating the new one?
If you stop and think about it, "The Voice" is just a little but like that Gotye song "Somebody That I Used to Know". We hate to break it to you young souls out there, but everyone changes eventually—and eventually, we're all just somebody that someone else used to know.
Thomas Hardy's "The Voice" tackles these issues, and throws in one big twist: what do we do when that somebody that we used to know dies? How do we mourn somebody who we no longer love? How do we deal with all of those crazy emotions all at once? Can we feel all of these feelings without exploding (or, you know, hearing weird voices)?
Introducing Thomas Hardy
Here's a useful bio by the Poetry Foundation.
The Victorian Web
This is an awesome resource for all things Hardy.
No, it's not a group of tough folks. It's a group of Thomas Hardy enthusiasts.
Tragedy at Stonehenge
Here's the final scene of the BBC adaptation of Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles.
Here's a "tastefully exaggerated," kind of funny biography video, produced for a literature class.
Here's a very serious version of "The Voice."
Here's another version.
Here a woman's voice with this version.
Hardy in Old Age
Here he is, rockin' an enviable handlebar mustache.
Emma Gifford at 30
Nice updo, Emma!
The Hardy Homestead
See it for yourself.
Slate takes on Hardy
See what they have to say about the Emma poems!
The New York Times Obituary
For our man Thomas.
Hardy's Novel Tess of the D'Urbervilles
This is a classic that deserves all the hype.
Hardy's Novel Tess of the D'Urbervilles: The TV Mini-Series
The BBC really knows how to work a tragic tale like this one.
A Bollywood version of Tess!