The Going, the first of the 1912-1913 poems on the death of Emma Hardy on 27 November, 1912
Why did you give no hint that night
That quickly after the morrow's dawn,
And calmly, as if indifferent quite,
You would close your term here, up and be gone
Where I could not follow
With wing of swallow
To gain one glimpse of you ever anon!
Never to bid good-bye
Or lip me the softest call,
Or utter a wish for a word, while I
Saw morning harden upon the wall,
That your great going
Had place that moment, and altered all.
as if you didn’t care
end your time alive
ever anon – ever again
lip me – give, with your lips
Why do you make me leave the house
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Perhaps this is why he had not noticed her
increasing frailty. Her death prompted an outpouring of poems, of which ‘The Going' is the first.
The first four verses are very much centred on ‘you’ (Emma). Verse one: ‘Why did you give no
hint … that … You would close your term here!’ Verse two: ‘Your great going / Had place that
moment, and altered all.’ Verse three: “Why do you make me leave the house / And think … it is
you I see?’ Verse four: ‘You were she who abode / … far West.’ In verse five the focus moves to
‘we’, and what, as a couple, they might have said and done. In the last verse, the focus moves to
Hardy, the desolate widower, undone by his wife’s sudden ‘going’.
Hardy calls the poem ‘The Going’ but he largely avoids the word death. He refers to Emma’s death
as ‘close your term here, up and be gone / Where I could not follow’; as ‘your great going’; as
‘blankness’; as ‘your vanishing’ , and as ‘such swift fleeing’. He uses the word dead only twice.
In the penultimate verse, he asks with remorse why they did not think of the happy days when they
first met, ‘those days long dead … and strive to seek / That time’s renewal?’ That hope has now
died with Emma’s death. The second time he uses the word dead is in the last verse, describing
himself: ‘I seem but a dead man.’ This means that the emphasis of the poem falls on how different
everything seems without her, ‘and altered all’. She has gone where Hardy cannot follow, cannot
ever see her again, cannot ever speak to her again. He keeps thinking that he sees her and finds
nothing but ‘darkening dankness’ and ‘yawning blankness’ – emptiness. The suddenness of her
departure is dwelt on: ‘quickly’, ‘such swift fleeing’ and Hardy’s inability to get his mind round it.
The structure and literally the shape of the verses is unusual. The syllable count is all over the
place. In verses 1, 3 and 5, the longer lines have syllable counts of 8, 9, 10 and sometimes 11
syllables. The strangely short lines 5 and 6 in each verse have sometimes 5, sometimes 6 syllables.
Verses 2, 4 and 6 have shorter first two lines, more of the length of lines 5 and 6. What is the effect
Verses 1, 3 and 5 all start with the cry or the question Why? ‘Why did you give no hint that night
…!’ ‘Why do you make me leave the house …!’ ‘Why then latterly did we not speak …?’ The
punctuation follows what is happening. In the first verse, the opening line runs on to the next, reenacting ‘that quickly after the morrow’s dawn’ Emma left this life. Then the third line slows,
reflecting Emma’s calm and indifference. The short lines detailing Hardy’s desire to follow her, ‘to
gain one glimpse of you’ and his inability to do so are of course run-on lines. Does the shape of this
verse, and that of the following alternate verses, give the outline of an hour glass, conveying
through shape as well as through the sense and movement of the lines the suddenness of the
changes brought about by time? Not...