Summary and Analysis
“The Going,” by the English novelist and poet Thomas Hardy (1840-1928), describes the speaker’s reaction to the sudden, unexpected death of a loved one, apparently his wife. The poem clearly reflects Hardy’s devastation at the death of his own wife, Emma, to whom he had been married for many years. Although the relationship between them had become very strained, at her death Hardy nevertheless felt great grief and wrote a number of poems lamenting her passing and the loss of their early closeness. However, one need not know these biographical details to appreciate “The Going”; the poem makes perfect sense without such specific knowledge.
As the poem opens, the speaker is addressing his dead wife—who, of course, cannot hear him, or who at least cannot respond. This fact already helps set the tone of the work, which emphasizes feelings of futility. The wife’s death is described as quickly as it apparently occurred; the announcement of it, in line 4, catches us as much by surprise as it seems to have caught the speaker. Ironically, the wife died not during the darkness of the night (as might have seemed appropriate) but just after the start of a new day. The speaker seems stunned by the sudden loss, yet his feelings are ones to which anyone can relate. Loss of loved ones—especially through death—is a universal experience. Thus, even though Hardy was motivated to write by his own loss in particular, this poem speaks for and to anyone who has ever been, or ever will be, similarly surprised.
So stunned is the speaker that in stanza two his tone is almost accusatory—as if his mate should have warned him of an impending death she herself did not expect and could not anticipate. Such irrationality, of course, is common among the grieving: anger is one of the first and most automatic responses to any severe loss. Thus Hardy’s depiction of the speaker’s annoyance is psychologically accurate and convincing, while the image of “morning harden[ing] upon the wall” (11) is a memorably vivid way of suggesting the sense that time has stopped—that the moment of her death struck the speaker as crucial, unforgettable, and highly ironic. Time in general, and daylight in particular, seemed, to him, to have halted when she died. For him, at least, her passing “altered all” (14).
The somewhat accusatory tone continues in stanza three, although the very fact of that tone suggests a great deal about the intensity of the speaker’s grief and his present irrationality. Rather than blaming God (who is never mentioned, positively or negatively), the speaker takes out his frustration on his dead wife. Paradoxically, the very fact that he seems frustrated with her suggests how much she now means to him—how much he misses her and wishes he could recover (and repair) their lost time together. Appropriately enough, imagery of darkness dominates in this stanza, while the image of an “alley of bending boughs” implies not only darkness but constriction and limits.
In contrast, in stanza four the speaker recalls the beauty of his loved one’s youth, when he first knew her. He associates her here with the beauty of nature as well, including the striking colors of red and white (colors often associated in literature with love and passion). Lines 26-27 imply that the speaker himself was physically attractive in his youth—attractive enough to arouse the interest of the young woman whose own interest, apparently, also helped arouse his interest in response. Apparently she passed him while she was on horseback (or at least in a carriage), imagery suggesting her power, her ease of movement, and her self-assurance—traits that have now all vanished because of her death. The speaker, remembering her youth, recalls his own. That was...
(The entire section is 992 words.)