This is one of the elegiac poems written after the death of Hardy’s estranged wife, Emma. Though for several years they did not speak to each other even while living under one roof, Emma’s sudden death unleashed a wave of complicated feelings in Hardy. In this poem, Hardy imagines that she calls out to him, but it could be the wind.
This poem mourns the death of Hardy’s wife, Emma. He is filled with remorse at the way their relationship unravelled as time went by. Guilt at the way he treated her consumes him. He imagines that she is calling out to him repeatedly. He wants to see her as she appeared in the early days when they would fondly wait for each other. He particularly remembers an “air blue” dress that she used to wear. Then comes the realisation that it could be just the wind whispering as it cuts through the thorns. The year is coming to an end and all around him leaves are falling signalling the end of growth. Again he hears the voice.
The main idea of the poem is the confusion in Hardy’s mind about what he hears. Is it his late wife calling out to him or is it just the cold North Wind whispering? The year is at an end and leaves flutter down, marking the end of the cycle of growth. It reinforces the desolation that is in his mind. He knows she is gone forever and the voice can be heard no more.
The voice that calls out to him belongs to the woman whom he misses most now. She says that she is changed now but he remembers those days when she “was all to me”. Is she calling out to him now? He remembers her as she was in those fair days when they used to wait for each other in the town, she in an “air blue” dress that he remembers well. But now he is not so sure whether it is not just the wind as she has moved beyond existence and her voice will never be heard ever again. This realisation makes the poet stumble forward. Leaves are falling all around making the end of the cycle of growth. The keen north wind catches him as it blows through the thorns. And then he hears the voice again. The poem is filled with eerie images of a ghostly voice calling out from beyond. Its late autumn and that helps to reinforce the notion of death.
The idea of the voice of a dead person floating across calling someone repeatedly is enough to make one’s hair stand on end. There are many eerie images that strengthen the feeling of loss, guilt and sorrow.