Emma Hardy died on the morning of 27th November, 1921. Her passing seems to have taken Hardy by surprise. Though they lived in the same house, they had been separated for some years. This poem is one of those he wrote on the subject of her death. Though roughly elegiac in nature, it differs from the classic elegy.
The poem is mostly about “you”, his wife, Emma. The first four stanzas concentrate on Emma. From stanza five, he speaks of “we” – what they did or did not do together. The last stanza is about the poet himself and coming to terms with his loss. Though it is an elegy, Hardy takes pains to avoid the word “death” wherever possible. He mourns that she left with no opportunity for him to say good-bye. In the tradition of elegies, he imagines that he can see Emma as she appeared during happier days. At the end there is the grim realisation (“Well, well! All's past amend,/ Unchangeable.) that she is gone forever and he has to come to terms with that.
The poem is an elegy written on the death of Hardy’s wife. Emma and Hardy lived in the same house but they had been estranged for several before that. He does not seem to have been aware that she was critically ill. There is regret expressed and a sense of loss. He feels she died too soon; there no time for him to say good-bye. They did not talk to each other, and now it is too late. He remembers the happy days of yore when they were in love and happy. And now he is left alone to grieve and come to terms with his loss.
The poem begins with the first of a series of questions that have led some critics to remark that a tone of irritation marks the poem. The poet’s wife did not give him any notice of her impending departure, but calmly, almost indifferently, left. She has gone so far, he can never hope to follow there for a glimpse of her face. The rhyme scheme for the whole poem is ABABCCB.
By the time he realised that she had passed away it was morning with the sunlight bright on the wall. He asks her why she did not bid him good-bye or call him at least once softly. Her departing has made a profound change to his life.
He feels impelled to leave the house and for a moment out in the garden, along the path beneath the tangled boughs where she often sat, he imagines he can see her. But soon the realisation hits him that there is just empty darkness out there and the sight makes him feel sick.
In this stanza, hardy remembers the many happy moments of their youth when they were happy in each other’s company. She lived in the western part of the country, she was confident and rode along the overhanging cliffs of Beeny Crest and pulling up beside him would gaze at him. This was the best times of their life.
Of late there was a growing distance between them. They did not make any attempt to bridge that chasm. They could have revisited the places they loved, hoping to recapture some of the feelings they had for each other.
This stanza touches on the immutability of death. The changes it brings on are absolute. The faltering half sentences and the caesuras indicate Hardy’s loss of words to express his feelings. He seems surprised at the strength of his own feelings of loss. He has but to wait for his own death now.
Hardy hardly ever wrote poems that were truly cheerful. Every where there is the feeling of loss, either of emotion or a loved one. This is the first of the elegies written for Emma. Though estranged from her, Hardy writes movingly of his wife.