‘Your Last Drive’ by Thomas Hardy is a five stanza poem that is separated into sets of six lines, known as sestets. The lines follow a straightforward rhyme scheme of ABABCC. There are also examples of internal half, or slant, rhyme in the text. These are seen through the repetition of assonance or consonance. This means that either a vowel or consonant sound is reused within one line, or multiple lines of verse. For example, “heedless” and “tree” in the second stanza and “eve,” “seen” and “sheen” in the third stanza, all of these make use of the long “e” sound.
One technique that is commonly used within poetry is enjambment. This occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. It forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence.
In the case of ‘Your Last Drive,’ Hardy uses enjambment to add drama to the lines, often breaking them in important places and shocking a reader with revelations in the second half. This is certainly the case if a reader comes to the text unaware of the sudden (to Hardy anyway) death of his wife. For example, the transition between lines three and four of the first stanza. Here, it is revealed that his wife is indeed dead.
‘Your Last Drive’ was written, as were many of Hardy’s best, soon after the death of his wife, Emma. When Emma died, the couple had been separated for a number of years. The reason for this separation is complicated but had 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). Her death inspired him to write some of his most powerful poems. These include ‘The Going’ and ‘After a Journey’.
The major themes of this piece are love, loss, and the afterlife, or lack thereof. Hardy’s love for his wife is on full display as he mourns her loss and thinks deeply about the circumstances surrounding her death. From the focus he puts on her “last drive” it is clear he has been considering the days and weeks before her passing, trying to find evidence of the illness that was killing her.
Without loss, this poem would not exist. It is the loss of his wife, and everything that resulted from that loss (emotional and physical) that inspired Hardy to write the poem. The contemplative lines about her grave and its surroundings are poignant examples of how loss is solidified and marked in the sufferer’s day to day existence.
Hardy uses the last two stanzas of ‘Your Last Drive’ to think about the afterlife and his beliefs. From historical records, it is known that Hardy did not hold any strong beliefs in the existence of a god or gods, nor in a life after death. But, his wife Emma did. This contrast is interesting as he considers their mutual worlds and her inability to know anything now about what he thinks, says, or does.
Summary of Your Last Drive
The poem begins with the speaker describing how his wife drove down the “moorway” on her way back to their home. She most likely looked at the lights from the “borough” and admired them. This sight, just as all the other beautiful ones of the world, would soon never grace her face again. This was to be her last drive home, but she had no idea. Hardy informs the reader that a week later she was dead.
In the next stanza, he states that his wife had no idea that as she was driving she passed right by the land in which she was soon to be buried. Her eye was “heedless” when she beheld it. This seems strange and ironic to Hardy who now thinks about the land constantly and has to remember it as her everlasting resting place.
He goes on, considering the fact that he did not drive with his wife. Through the use of an ellipse, a reader can get the sense that this is something he thinks about a lot. His thoughts seem to drift off into the distance. Perhaps, things would’ve been different had he paid better attention to her or spent more time with her. But, the rest of the stanza confirms, he doesn’t think this really would’ve been the case. He knows that he would’ve looked at her face and missed all the signs that she was going to die in a week.
The fourth stanza is told from the perspective of his wife, but in a twist, she espouses Hardy’s beliefs rather than her own. She tells him that it’s not going to matter if he still loves her, visits her grave, or does neither, she’ll have no idea. In death she’ll have no knowledge of the living world.
The final concluding stanza is just as solemn in tone and mood as those that came before it. Hardy imagines that maybe after death his wife could be a ghost, but even then he knows that she’d be “past love, praise, indifference, blame”.
Analysis of Your Last Drive
Here by the moorway you returned,
And saw the borough lights ahead
That lit your face—all undiscerned
To be in a week the face of the dead,
And you told of the charm of that haloed view
That never again would beam on you.
In the first stanza of ‘Your Last Drive,’ it quickly becomes clear that lines of this poem are addressed to a specific person, and considering the context, especially the time period in which it was written, this person is very likely Hardy’s deceased wife Emma. Hardy begins by describing a specific occurrence.
He speaks to his wife, and describes how she returned “by the moorway”. He is imagining a time, in the fairly recent past, in which she arrived home from an evening drive by herself. Hardy describes how she would’ve noticed the “borough lights ahead”. He also imagines how they would’ve lit her face as she pulled up. This is her last drive before illness took her life., as referred to in the title.
When he saw her, her face was “undiscerned”. She didn’t know, nor did he, that in a week she would be dead. All the beautiful things in the world, such as that “hallowed view” on the way home, would never again shine on her.
And on your left you passed the spot
Where eight days later you were to lie,
And be spoken of as one who was not;
In the second stanza, the irony of the situation is increased, as it is revealed that her grave ended up being quite close to the area through which she drove. In fact, she passed “the spot” on her left where “eight days later” she “were to lie”. Hardy’s diction throughout these lines is striking. It is clear this is an emotional topic for him to speak about, but the lines are contained and well rhymed.
He is discussing his wife’s death as a terrible event, but also as something he needs to analyze and better understand. Another interesting line in this section is the third. Hardy refers to his wife as someone who would “be spoken of as one who was not”. This is a reference to the transition from speaking about someone in the present to the past tense after they are dead.
Beholding it with a heedless eye
As alien from you, though under its tree
You soon would halt everlastingly.
This is a feature of written and spoken language that a reader should consider as they continue through ‘Your Last Drive’. When his soon to be deceased wife drove past the spot where she was soon to lie, she was “heedless in her glance”. She might’ve seen the spot, but, obviously, she had no idea what was to become of her, and how important that area of land was going to be. It was a place that was “alien from” her at that time. But, it was soon to be the place where she would “halt everlastingly”.
I drove not with you. . . . Yet had I sat
At your side that eve I should not have seen
That the countenance I was glancing at
Had a last-time look in the flickering sheen,
In the third stanza, the speaker notes that he wasn’t driving with her on her “last drive”. The drive speaks to the larger relationship that existed or didn’t exist, between Hardy and his wife Emma before her death. It is common knowledge that they were estranged (although still living in the same house), and had not reconciled before her passing.
So, as Hardy crafts this image of her final, solitary drive, it is interesting to consider how important it was to him after she died that he was not there to accompany her. The drive is a metaphor for the last days of her life.
This is given some credence as Hardy makes use of an ellipse in the middle of the first line of the third stanza. His thoughts are drifting off to an imagined world in which he sat beside her. The metaphor for ‘Your Last Drive’ as Hardy’s wife’s final days on earth continues as the poet considers what might’ve been different if he had been alongside her.
Nor have read the writing upon your face,
“I go hence soon to my resting-place;
Perhaps, if he had been there, he would have seen her face and known the illness that was plaguing her. But, in reality, Hardy knows this really wasn’t ever going to be the case. If he had been there, he admits truthfully, he would not of known “glancing at her” that her face had a “last time look in the flickering sheen”. He would not have been able to read the writing upon her face, and know that she would soon to go to her resting-place
“You may miss me then. But I shall not know
How many times you visit me there,
Or what your thoughts are, or if you go
There never at all. And I shall not care.
Should you censure me I shall take no heed
And even your praises no more shall need.”
The fourth stanza of ‘Your Last Drive’ contains only dialogue from Emma‘s perspective. Hardy imagines her speaking to him right before her death, as she admits the unknowable nature of death itself. She tells her husband that when she’s gone that he might miss her. But, she’d never know the difference either way. She will have no idea if he comes to visit her, or if he never comes at all. Then again, she won’t care either way.
These lines are especially interesting as Hardy appears to be putting his own words and his wife’s mouth. These are things that he believed in. He had no faith in an afterlife, but his wife did. He believed, as stands at four states from the perspective of Emma, that there was no afterlife.
True: never you’ll know. And you will not mind.
But shall I then slight you because of such?
Dear ghost, in the past did you ever find
The thought “What profit”, move me much?
Yet abides the fact, indeed, the same,—
You are past love, praise, indifference, blame.
He continues to address her directly in the fifth stanza by agreeing with her words from the fourth. Hardy knows that it is true, she will never know how he feels, or how he acts or doesn’t act after she is dead. He is able to conceive of one possibility though, maybe he will see her as a ghost. He considers what it would mean to encounter her as a ghost, and the lack of value that all their past loves, arguments, and emotions have at that point. As a ghost, she would be “past love, praise, indifference, blame.”