Study Guide

The Voice Quotes

  • Versions of Reality

    Woman much missed, how you call to me, call to me, (1)

    When the poem begins, we're not sure whether the woman is dead, a ghost, or simply a voice in the speaker's head. We might begin to suspect that there's something odd about this scenario, though, because of the repetition of the "call to me." The speaker is sounding urgent and a wee bit desperate.

    Can it be you that I hear? Let me view you, then, (4)

    Now the speaker begins to doubt the woman's existence. He wants to see her, but—spoiler alert—she never appears. Sounds like the speaker is trying to use all of his senses to find out the truth about this woman. (Maybe he's been watching too much CSI!)

    Or is it only the breeze, in its listlessness
    Travelling across the wet mead to me here,
    You being ever dissolved to wan wistlessness,
    Heard no more again far or near? (9-12)

    Okay, we are now in self-doubt central. The speaker is wondering if he's mixing up the sound of the woman's voice with the wind. The contrived rhymes of "listlessness" and "wistlessness" show the speaker's intense focus on sounds—both his own, and the sounds of the wind-or-voice. Everything is suddenly all about sound for the speaker. So, does it seem like this guy has a one-way ticket to the funny farm? What is the reality of his experience?

    Thus I; faltering forward,
    Leaves around me falling,
    Wind oozing thin through the thorn from norward,
    And the woman calling. (13-16)

    So now the speaker is faltering, and he hears both the wind and the voice of the woman calling. He resists making a choice—he has his cake and eats it too. He doesn't decide what's real and what's not real. He's gonna live in this in-between-y world of conflicting realities. Good luck with that, bro.

  • Death

    Woman much missed, how you call to me, call to me, (1)

    In the first line of the poem, we're not sure that the woman is even dead—after all, she's calling to the speaker. Can dead people call out? And call out insistently? We don't have any experience with ghosts, so we'll leave this one to you.

    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! (5-8)

    These lines break our hearts a little, as the speaker tries to visualize the dead beloved woman. He remembers her in an "air-blue gown," which makes her particularly ghostly. We hate to break it to you, speaker: this chick ain't gonna reappear in a blue dress.

    You being ever dissolved to wan wistlessness,
    Heard no more again far or near? (11-12)

    Again, breaking Shmoopy hearts. The woman is "dissolved," never to be heard from again. What a desperate image; we can totally see her fading away into thin air. The speaker sounds like he's giving up in these lines, like he's now sure that the woman is gone, never to return.

    Wind oozing thin through the thorn from norward,
    And the woman calling. (15-16)

    And yet! In the final lines of the poem, the woman's voice continues to call to the speaker. Maybe she's dead, but she lives on in him? Maybe he's deranged, and is hearing voices? Maybe his memories are so powerful that they overtake him? Whatever you think, it's clear that even though the woman is dead, she's alive in the speaker's memory.

  • Memory and the Past

    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. (1-4)

    Whoa, hold on there, pardner. You're throwing a whole lot at us. If we break down these lines, we discover that the speaker imagines that his beloved has now changed back to the person she was when she was young, that (in death), she's no longer "changed." We get the feeling that there is some wish-fulfillment going on here—that the speaker really wishes that he could get his old (that is to say, young) wife back.

    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! (5-8)

    The speaker is all about nostalgia in these lines for the "fair" woman he used to love in that blue gown. What a perfect woman she was, waiting for him, all pretty and fancy.

    You being ever dissolved to wan wistlessness,
    Heard no more again far or near? (11-12)

    Now the beloved woman in all of her forms seems to be disappearing—dissolving—into thin air. The speaker can't keep a hold of her forever. Even the question mark at the end of the line is a sad acknowledgement that she's not coming back. He already knows the answer to this question.

    Wind oozing thin through the thorn from norward,
    And the woman calling. (15-16)

    But just when we think that the woman is gone, here she is, "calling" once again. It's like she's constantly demanding that the speaker recognize her. That he keep her alive, if only in his memory. Or, you know, she's totally a ghost and literally haunting him. Your pick.