The Going by Thomas Hardy
The Going in part of a set of poems written by Hardy for Emma between 1912-13. All these poems are a reflection of his guilt and regret at remaining oblivious to his wife’s state. The poems are attempts at redemption and attempts at trying to console himself. The Going is an accusation at Emma’s untimely departure. A way for Hardy to somehow placate himself, rid himself of guilt. The title suggests an action which is contained and the coupling of ‘the’ with ‘going’ gives it a deeper edge significance.
Many critics see the tone as somewhat ‘maudlin’. The poet has transitory tones of accusation, nostalgia, anguish and acceptance. It has six Septet stanzas. The rhyming scheme is ABABCCB. Alternate stanzas begin with a question although there is not regular pattern. This structured irregularity adds to the questioning tone of the poem and makes a huge contribution to its authenticity. The first Stanza begins with a questioning tone as Hardy refers to the last night that Emma was alive.
He complains as to why she left without giving him the slightest awareness. The word ‘dawn’ is metaphoric for Hardy’s beginning as a widower. This accusation is ironic as earlier during the day that had Emma died, Hardy had not gone to see her despite being informed by their maid of her critical condition so it had of course always been Hardy himself who was indifferent. The use of the word, ‘calmly’ is suggestive of his envy. Emma was now in peace. But she had left him in irreparable guilt to suffer with the consequences.
He accuses her for not telling him before she left and dissipated into the universe ‘where he could not follow’. This is an euphemism for death as in Christina Rosetti’s poem, ‘Remember’ where it has been referred to as the ‘Silent land’. According to many critics, this accusatory tone was a consequence of Hardy’s exasperation at having lost the chance to redeem himself. As long as Emma was alive, Hardy was placated that there was still a chance to reconcile. But with Emma’s ‘going’, he was devoid of even that chance now.
There is a poignant irony in these verses because of the fact that as long as they had been physically separated, there was still a chance to bridge the gap but now they will remain estranged forever. And maybe it is easier to blame her than himself because no matter what he conjectured, she wasn’t there to defend herself. No matter how unjustified his own accusations maybe, Emma wasn’t there to justify herself. So, he attacked her. In the second stanza, Hardy seems to be blaming Emma for their lack of communication. He is chiding her as she had never complained.
If she had let him know how she felt distanced and estranged, he would have made attempts at amends. There is a pause after the first two verses to give time to make sense of what he’s saying. The internal rhyme of ‘bid’ and ‘lip’ gives a sense of the distance between life and hereafter. He then describes that first morning of her death. he is being unequivocally bitter and sarcastic about the healing and comforting effects of morning. He brings in concrete elements. The words ‘unmoved’ and ‘unknowing’ amplify the sarcasm.
The element of cement hardening is dramatically juxtaposed with the unchangeable, irrevocable nature of Emma’s death. As Hardy begins to peel off layers, his angst increases. The fact that she is never coming back. The alliterative ‘a’ in the last verse of the second stanza has a decisive edge to it. There is a certain finality to it. It is Hardy concluding his thoughts. The third stanza begins with a new question. Now Hardy wonders why Emma continues to haunt him. Why her presence still lingers. Why even now at times, he thinks it is her he is seeing as he turns at the ‘alley of the bending boughs’.
There is no pause after the first line. It is indicative of Hardy’s frustration and anger. The use of the word ‘breath’ suggests the fleeting nature of life and death. The figurative use of the word ‘dusk’ creates a contrast with ‘dawn’. He is again laying the blame for these apparitions on Emma. He is overwhelmed by the void that was between them now and realising that he will never see her again in these places where he imagines her to be and the very thought ‘sickens’ him. The end rhymes of ‘dankness’ and ‘blankness’ are forced rhymes.
The fourth stanza develops the third by thinking back in time to when Thomas and Emma first met, in March 1870, as a result of Thomas having been sent to north Cornwall by his architect employer to look at the church of St Juliot that was in need of restoration. Emma was then living with her sister and brother-in-law at the rectory where Thomas called late in the evening with the manuscript of a poem sticking out of his pocket. Thomas made several later visits to St Juliot and their love affair began. Emma impressed Thomas by her beauty and skill on horseback, as reflected in this stanza.
There is a certain level of intimacy here that wasn’t seen before. He describes her beauty and makes the minutest references to and even naming all those places they had been to as if the names had been wrung out of him and he couldn’t help himself. Again, as in other poems, he remembers Emma when she was young and beautiful. Though. Many critics view this as selfish and feministic but many have also pointed out the fact that maybe those were the days when Hardy was actually happy. And this is confirmed in the stanza later as Hardy, personifying life, describes those days as ‘life unrolling it’s very best’.
The fifth stanza shows a level of distinction as here, Hardy switches from the use of ‘you’ and ‘I’ to ‘we’. Now he has accepted that they were both responsible however this stanza leaps forward again to less happy days when the couple quarrelled and, at times, lived separate lives under the same roof. Hardy was conscious of the fact that he and Emma never went back to Cornwall after their marriage in 1874, and he explored this theme in more depth in another poem in this set, namely “I Found Her Out There”.
However, here he regrets this fact and that they never revisited those places, never tried to relive those days of their early courtship. This stanza acts as a final Ode to Emma. There is a noticeable tone of nostalgia here as he retraces their paths one last time. The use of inverted commas suggests as if he’s quoting her. The reference to spring and bright weather here is a dramatic parallel to dawn. In the final stanza Hardy tries to come to terms with reality. To accept it as ‘unchangeable’ and to to move on.
But then he reflects on his inability to do it. His attempts to live a normal life fail. He cannot turn back the wheel of life and can not retrieve lost times. He feels the loss of it very deeply. The vacillating between past and present is reflective of his difficulty of coming to terms with his situation. The inconsistency in the last stanza is reflective of the emptiness that us now his whole life. He feels vacant and hollow after Emma’s death. He may be moving physically but is emotionally static.
The use of ‘O’ is very expressive and indicative of the swift fleeting of ‘going’. It had changed Hardy so much that he could not see himself coming out of it as earlier in the poem he mentions himself that her death had ‘altered all’. He is so fettered by guilt that it is anchoring him down. He can not move on. By use of the word ‘foreseeing’ and ‘glimpse’ earlier in the poem, he is trying to say that he never saw her death coming. This poem is thus an interrogation for both of them. There is a certain down cadence to the musicality of the poem in the last stanza.
There is a sense of resignation and a toning down of his accusations as he tries to come to peace but the ellipses and exclamation marks show that he is not at peace. Emma’s death has unravelled him. Throughout the poem, there is a noticeable kinaesthetic imagery created by the use of words associated with motion. The words like ‘now’, ‘then’, ‘was’, ‘is’ and the vacillating between past and present amplify the idea of ‘The Going’. There are dynamics associated with movement throughout. And the whole poem itself is reflective of the brutality of the going away of the ‘passage of time’.