Study Guide

The Voice Analysis

  • Sound Check

    If you want all the nitty-gritty technical goodies about the sound of "The Voice," check out what we've got to say in the "Form and Meter" section. But if you want the more immediate, and a little less scholarly take on the poem's sound, then read on.

    To us, "The Voice" sounds like one big, repeated sob of a slightly-deranged person. All of the crazy rhymes and repetitions, the unusual meter, the lilting waltz-y sound of the poem make us feel completely dizzy and off-kilter when we read the poem aloud.

    For example, rhymes like "listlessness" and "wistlessness": they seem a little overboard to us, a little contrived. They seem like the crazy ramblings of a guy who's off his rocker and losing touch with reality And as we read the poem out loud, we begin to feel how the speaker of the poem himself feels—slightly crazed, and definitely compelled to listen very, very carefully to the sounds he hears around him. The poem's use of alliteration ("much missed," "wan wistlessness," "faltering forward") and assonance ("thorn," "norward") only adds to the sonic jumble.

    In short, reading "The Voice" makes us feel like we too are hearing voices from the beyond. (And, not gonna lie: we kind of like it.)

  • What's Up With the Title?

    "The Voice" is all about a mysterious voice. (No big surprises there). Does the voice belong to a dead woman? Is the voice actually the wind? Is the speaker hearing voices in his head that don't exist in the real world?

    Sure, this poem is about love, regret, grief, confusion, but at its heart, it may just be a poem about trying to figure out and understand our own sensations and experiences of the world. Is the voice of "The Voice" coming from inside or outside the speaker? That is the question—and the title primes us for it.

  • Setting

    The speaker of "The Voice" projects his feelings onto the landscape. He's feeling sad inside, and what he sees outside of himself reflects that sadness. When poets reflect a person's inner life into her outer life (like the speaker's sadness into the landscape), we call this the "objective correlative."

    T.S. Eliot, everyone's favorite modernist poet, came up with this fancy term, but don't let it scare you. It basically describes exactly what's going on in "The Voice." The speaker is grieving, and the world around him—especially the wind—reflects how he's feeling inside. Depending on your interpretation, the speaker may or may not project the woman's voice in his head onto the wind. And the speaker is clearly falling and faltering in his heart—so, hey, check it out, the leaves in the poem are falling!

    The physical attributes of the setting, then, are essentially a reflection of the speaker's emotional state. And, as we learn particularly in stanzas 3 and 4, that state is a pretty confused and stormy landscape—both within and without.

  • Speaker

    Our speaker is a sad and confused dude, who may or may not be Thomas Hardy himself. Sure, Hardy's experience of his wife's (Emma's) death was painful, confusing, and full of mixed emotions (check out "In a Nutshell" for more deets on Hardy's relationship with Emma), but the speaker of a poem, even an autobiographical one, is always a kind of fiction. We have no way of knowing how truthful a portrait of himself Hardy made, which is why we refer to "the speaker" of the poem instead of Hardy.

    What we do know about this speaker is that he's having trouble telling fantasy from reality. He's hearing the voice of a mysterious dead woman, but is the voice just the wind? Is he reading his own feelings and senses into the outside world? Or, is there really a ghost in this poem? These are the heavy questions that the speaker is asking himself in "The Voice." Our speaker is one mixed-up fellow.

    And you know what? We're right there with him. At the end of the poem, the speaker is unable to come to a conclusion about the true nature of the voice, so—just as we're drawn in to his confusing, jumbled sensations in the poem—we're left without any degree of certainty. Thanks a lot, speaker!

  • Tough-o-Meter

    (6) Tree Line

    "The Voice" can be an incredibly tricky poem if you don't know anything about Hardy's life (luckily, we've done your homework for you in our "In a Nutshell" section). It can also be tricky cause of how it sounds—the rhythm, the rhymes, the general sound-y-ness of the poem can be overwhelming. It can be hard to see past wacky rhymes like "listlessness" and "wistlessness," and the poem's crazy dactylic tetrameter, to penetrate to its heart. But never fear; Shmoop is here! We take you through the poem nice and slowly ("Detailed Summary") to keep you from faltering and falling like the speaker does.

  • Calling Card

    DIY Form

    Hardy wasn't one of those poets who picked a form and stayed with it. Shakespeare loved those sonnets. Milton was pretty committed to blank verse. But Hardy was all over the place with his forms. He liked to change things up. "The Voice" is written mostly in dactylic tetrameter (not exactly a common form), while his famous poem "The Darkling Thrush" was written in good ol' iambic tetrameter (much more common).

    Hardy felt that the form of the poem should fit its content, so, not surprisingly, he was always changing up his forms. In "The Voice," for example, the poem's dizzying form echoes its dizzying content. If you want another example, check out "The Convergence of the Twain," a poem about the Titanic for one strange-looking, yet poem-appropriate form. (Do the stanzas remind you of icebergs? Good.)

    Hardy wasn't afraid to change the forms of his poems even while he was writing them, which is why the last stanza of "The Voice" looks so different from the rest. We like to think of Hardy's style as a sort of homegrown, do-it-yourself aesthetic: make up your own forms! Serve them with homemade fresh fruit compote! (If you're into that sort of thing). Don't be afraid to experiment!

  • Form and Meter

    Dactylic Tetrameter Quatrains with Ballad Rhymes (Whew!)

    "The Voice" is one crazy-sounding poem, and that's what makes it awesome. There are a few interesting things about the poem's form, and we'll take them one at a time.

    First up, we've got ABAB rhymes (also known as ballad rhymes) throughout the poem. Many, though not all, of the poem's rhymes are triple rhymes (in which the last three syllables of the lines rhyme with their partnering lines). For example:

    Woman much missed, how you call to me, call to me,A
    Saying that now you are not as you were B
    When you had changed from the one who was all to me, A
    But as at first, when our day was fair. B

    The rhymes of lines 1 and 3, of "call to me" and "all to me" are triple rhymes. They sound a bit overdone to us, like the speaker is going over-the-top in his rhyming. Triple rhymes here sound artificial and fake (especially in rhymes like "listlessness and "wistlessness"), and this artificiality jives with one of the big questions of the poem: is the voice real or imagined?

    In addition to all of the rhymes at the end of the lines, we've got tons of general sound-y-ness (yes, we just made that word up). There's alliteration in phrases such as "faltering forward" (13) and "thin through the thorn" (14). There's internal rhyme in words such as "you" and "view" (5), and assonance in words such as "mead" and "me" (10).

    All of these repeated sounds that exceed the regular rhyme scheme make the poem incredibly dense. The repetitions make us feel like the speaker can't get out of the vicious cycle of grief that he's in. He keeps hearing voices, and he keeps reusing his own vocal patterns. There's no escape from sound in this poem.

    The third important thing to know about the poem is its meter (or rhythm). "The Voice" is written in… quatrains (four-line stanzas) of dactylic tetrameter. Wait—don't run away scared! We promise we'll explain!

    Dactylic tetrameter means that each line of the poem has four feet (that's the "tetra-" in "tetrameter"), and that each of the poem's feet (which is like a unit of rhythm) is a dactyl. A dactyl is a foot that's made up of a stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables. For example, if you say "penalty" out loud, you'll hear a dactyl: DA dum dum. So, when we scan (or figure out the meter of) the first stanza of the poem, we get this pattern:

    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 wasall to me,
    But as at first, when our day was fair

    The effect of this uncommon meter is a waltzing, lilting feel. It makes us a little dizzy, so don't worry if you're feeling dizzy, too. And what is especially dizzying is that the even-numbered lines are two or three syllables shorter than the odd-numbered lines. The unevenness makes us feeling like we're teetering on a ledge, about to fall over. And in case you haven't noticed, we're in the exact same predicament as the speaker. We're unsure and we've lost our footing—and maybe even our connection to reality. The dizzying form forces us into the position of the speaker. Yikes!

    The last important formal thing to think about with "The Voice" is the final stanza of the poem, which shrinks, quite literally. Hardy condenses his weirdo form into something even weirder as he breaks his own patterns. It's almost like the speaker of the poem gives up in the final lines, and he surrenders to the natural sounds of the words, instead of keeping to the strict meter. We read this last stanza as a kind of surrender (both in terms of form and content) to the mysterious voice. The speaker's rhythms no longer matter—it's all about the ghostly voice.

  • The Wind

    You know that Cat Stevens song "The Wind"? The first lines are "I listen to the wind / to the wind of my soul." Well, good ol' Cat is expressing the same thing that the speaker of the "The Voice" is. Both men are listening (or trying to listen to) the wind of their souls. And in the case of our speaker, the wind of his soul may or may not be the literal wind that he hears outside of him, which may or may not be the literal voice of his dead wife. Okay, we admit it, the wind of "The Voice" is a bit more complicated than Cat Stevens's wind. (But you should definitely check out the song anyway!)

    • Line 1: In the first line of the poem, we have no reason to believe that the woman's voice is actually the voice of the wind. Until…
    • Line 5: The speaker begins to doubt if he's hearing the woman's voice after all. 
    • Line 8: The woman's "air-blue gown" is described suspiciously airily, as if the woman were somehow always of the wind. 
    • Lines 9-12: The speaker asks straightforwardly if he's hearing the voice of the woman or the voice of the wind. Or could he be hearing both? 
    • Lines 13-16: At the end of the poem, the speaker seems to be reluctant to answer our questions. He reports hearing both "the wind oozing" and "the woman calling." Does this mean he's lost his mind? That ghosts are real? That the wind really is the wind of his soul? We hate to break it to you, but it's up to you.
  • The Call

    The poem begins and ends with the woman calling, so we're going to go ahead and argue that the idea of calling is pretty darn important in the poem. Note that the speaker is specific—the woman isn't simply "speaking" or perhaps "asking" for the speaker. The "call," unlike these others ways of speaking, connotes some urgency, desperation, or maybe even fear or need—as in "a call for help." This ghost, whether she's real or just a figment of the speaker's imagination, is an agitated ghost. She's constantly demanding something from the speaker (even if we don't know what that something is).

    • Lines 1-4 : The speaker imagines that the woman is calling to him, and in her call, she explains that she's changed. In the present, she's reverted to the woman of the distant (not the recent) past. This stanza seems desperate to us, because the ghost is expressing a desire to return to an impossible time. (Or is the speaker expressing this? Hmm. Food for thought…) 
    • Line 5: The speaker isn't sure if he's actually hearing the woman's call. He asks her to appear. (She doesn't.) 
    • Lines 9-12: The speaker asks if he's actually hearing the wind, not the voice of a dead woman. He seems more sensible here. 
    • Lines 13-16: The poem ends with both the sounds of the wind and the sound of "the woman calling." The speaker refuses to choose between the two, to decide whether the voice is real or imagined out of desperation.
  • The Landscape

    We don't know too much about the speaker's landscape, but we do know that it's not exactly an inviting place. In fact, the scenery starts to resemble the speaker's inner emotions throughout the poem. (For more on this, check out "Setting.") But there's more to the setting of the poem than just the wind. The whole world seems to feel the speaker's pain in "The Voice."

    • Lines 6-8: The speaker imagines the distant past, when the woman would stand outside, waiting for him, in an "air-blue gown." The gown, and the woman, in retrospect, take on the ghostly vision of the woman as she is in the present. 
    • Lines 9-11: We find out more about the landscape here. We have a "listless wind" and a "wet mead" (or meadow). We feel chilly and damp just reading these lines. 
    • Lines 13-14: Now we find out that the speaker is "faltering" as the leaves around him are "falling." The leaves are experiencing the same sensation as he is. 
    • Lines 15-16: The wind is still "oozing" sadly, and the speaker still hears "the woman calling." He hears the wind and the woman's voice simultaneously. Is it possible that they're one and the same?
    • Steaminess Rating


      "The Voice" is much more likely to inspire you to want to curl up in the fetal position and cry than it is to inspire you to make out with a cutie. Nope! Sorry, gang. Nothing sexy about this poem—at all.