In Thomas Hardy's sad but lovely poem, "The Going," he tells a woman that he deeply loved, who left without saying goodbye, how this action left him a mere shell of a man. It has been suggested that this poem refers to the estrangement between him and his first wife, Emma Lavinia Gifford. Even after the end of their marriage, Hardy struggled with the loss:
...he remained preoccupied with his first wife's death and tried to overcome his remorse by writing poetry.
Hardy's poem has six seven-line stanzas. In the first stanza, the speaker asks the woman why she never hinted that she would be leaving at dawn forever:
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...
The second stanza laments that she never spoke to him before she left. He woke to the dawn with no idea that she had left. As he saw the sun rise, he had no inkling that she was gone—and in going, she changed everything for him, forever.
Saw morning harden upon the wall,
That your great going
Had place that moment, and altered all.
The third stanza reflects the love he still has for the woman. He sees a figure where she used to spend time, where they spent time together, and he thinks for a moment—for a breath—that it is she. When he realizes it is not, it is as if the devastation is new all over again, and he is left sickened for the depth of his wanting her.
At the end of the alley of bending boughs
Where so often at dusk you used to be;
Till in darkening dankness
The yawning blankness
Of the perspective sickens me!
In the following stanza, the speaker recalls the places they went together...to the "red-veined rocks far West..." and "the beetling Beeny Crest." Their time together, for him, was special—seeing her ("the swan-necked one") and enjoying not only the places, but also the company. It still holds sway over him:
While Life unrolled us its very best.
In the next stanza, the speaker recalls the falling apart of the relationship. They stopped speaking, they forgot the special days they spent together, and they neglected to try to recapture what they had:
We might have said,
"In this bright spring weather
We'll visit together
Those places that once we visited."
The use of "might have" is a clear indication that they did not, and this reflects a sense of regret on the speaker's part.
The last stanza provides closure for the poem and the speaker: what is done is done; the past is "unchangeable." But for the speaker, it has defined his existence every day since she left that morning:
I seem but a dead man held on end
To sink down soon…
He notes that she could never have known that by leaving, what no one could foresee, what she...
...would undo me so!
This is a poem of lament, of sorrow...for what was, and what was lost and can never be again.