‘The Going’ by Thomas Hardy is a six stanza poem that is separated into sets of seven lines. These lines follow a consistent rhyme scheme that conforms to a pattern of ABABCCB, alternating end sounds as the lines progress.
In regards to the meter, there is no standard pattern, but the lines, visually, are of a similar length. Each stanza has five longer lines, 1-4 and 7, then two shorter ones, 5 and 6. No matter how many syllables there are per line, this rule holds true. It gives the poem a visual unity that connects with the rhyme scheme, as the two shorter lines are a rhyming couplet.
There are a few interesting moments of repetition within the text as well. For example, in lines five and six of the third stanza, there is a moment of interior rhyme as well as alliteration. Instances like this are characteristic of Hardy’s skillful poetry. They also increase the poignancy of the images they depict.
The poem begins with Hardy asking Emma why she left without telling him that she was dying. This forced a final separation between them that did not give him a chance to say a final goodbye, something Hardy wishes he could change. If he had known other impending death, things might’ve gone differently. Today, he is haunted by her. He sees her outside his window, down an alley, just as she used to be.
In the next stanzas, he recalls the best moments of their relationship and how they traversed the Cornwall coast together. He thinks that if she’d told him about what was happening to her, then they might’ve relived some of these memories. But, he also knows that this is now impossible. All is “past amend” and he is stuck in this new undone state that he didn’t expect.
The context of ‘The Going’ is quite important to understand if one wants to make a fulsome analysis of its contents. The poem comes from Hardy’s collection, Poems of 1912-13, the works which were written in the wake of his first wife’s death in 1912. ‘The Going’ is one long apostrophe, or verse directed towards someone or something that doesn’t actually exist. The speaker, who is the poet himself, addresses his dead wife, Emma, and questions her over her choice not to tell him she was dying It also contains deepest Hardy’s regrets over how things ended between them.
When Emma died, she and Hardy had been separated for a number of years. The reason for this separation is complicated but has to do with their mutual upbringings and Emma’s disappointment in and disapproval of some of Hardy’s writings. They are thought today to have been a poor match for one another, but as Hardy’s poetry makes clear, this did not stop him from loving her (at least in retrospect).
Analysis of The Going
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!
Hardy begins ‘The Going’ by asking a long question that takes up the entire stanza. All seven lines add onto the phrase, complicating it. As stated above, the intended listener of this piece is the poet’s own deceased wife, Emma. This technique, of addressing someone or something that does not physically exist is known as apostrophe. These lines eventually come together into a question. He asks his wife why she did not tell him she was going to leave him.
He begins by asking why she gave “no hint…” that she would “close [her] term here, up and gone / Where [he] could not follow.” He is clearly distraught by the separation which now exists between them. There is no way for him to gain “one glimpse” of her for the rest of time. It also seems to suggest that Hardy did not get to say goodbye to his wife before she died.
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.
Where they left their relationship is made clear in the beginning of the second stanza. Indeed, there were no goodbyes said. She did not “lip” him the “softest call” or even say one small word to him. Since he didn’t know she was dying, he was unable to act appropriately. Before her death, the two had become estranged, separating and living different lives.
He was “hardened upon the wall / Unmoved, unknowing” that things were changing irreparably. Hardy suggests that he would have “altered all” if he’d know what was happening.
Why do you make me leave the house
And think for a breath it is you I see
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!
The depths of Hardy’s despair is very poignantly described in the third stanza of ‘The Going.’ Hardy sees his wife “At the end of the alley of bending boughs” and is inspired to “leave the house” to try to find her. He sees her there because for so long this is where she “used to be.” But, he soon realizes that it is not her. He only thinks it is “for a breath.”
Hardy blames these visions on Emma and the way they left their relationship when she died. They are a manifestation of his guilt and regret. The last lines make use of an interesting repetitive and alliterative rhyme. The phrases, “Till in darkening dankness / The yawning blankness” mimic one another. With their perfect rhymes, they create a very clear image of the speaker’s state of mind, as much as the alleyway.
You were she who abode
By those red-veined rocks far West,
You were the swan-necked one who rode
Along the beetling Beeny Crest,
And, reining nigh me,
Would muse and eye me,
While Life unrolled us its very best.
In the fourth stanza he writes a kind of tribute to Emma. She was the one who lived “By those red-veined rocks far West.” This speaks to her birthplace in Plymouth, Devon. He also describes elegantly and respectfully. She was the “swan-necked one” who rode along the coast of Beeny in Cornwall. These moments are ones he holds dear. He can remember her musing and “eye[ing]” him.
When he remembers what they used to have, and what their early marriage was like, he knows that those years were “Life” at “its very best.” This raises the question of why the two separated in the first place, a topic which is expounded upon in the introduction.
Why, then, latterly did we not speak,
Did we not think of those days long dead,
And ere your vanishing strive to seek
That time’s renewal? We might have said,
“In this bright spring weather
We’ll visit together
Those places that once we visited.”
The fifth stanza of ‘The Going’ contains the questions Hardy has about how they left everything. He wants to know why they “did …not speak,” especially when she knew she was dying. Hardy thinks that Emma should’ve recalled the happier moments they had together and then “strive to seek / That time’s renewal.”
If she had chosen this path, then together they could’ve visited “Those places that once [they] visited.”
Well, well! All’s past amend,
Unchangeable. It must go.
I seem but a dead man held on end
To sink down soon. . . . O you could not know
That such swift fleeing
No soul foreseeing—
Not even I—would undo me so!
As if trying to come to terms with what happened, Hardy concludes by saying “Well, well!” Everything, he states, is “Unchangeable.” There is nothing he can do to “amend” it.
In the last lines of ‘The Going’ he mourns over his altered state. He didn’t know, and neither did Emma before she died, that her “swift fleeing” would “undo” him “so.”