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Thomas Hardy's Poetry

A desk in the Study at Max Gate, Dorset
A desk in the Study at Max Gate, Dorset | © National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

'The Going' is a wonderful elegy written soon after the death of Thomas Hardy's first wife, Emma, on 27 November, 1912. The poem tells us so much about the complex emotions that Hardy felt following the death of Emma: his overwhelming sense of loss; his regret for their long estrangement; his sense of guilt, no doubt prompted by her accusatory diaries found after her death; and his sense of irritation that she had taken herself off with no warning. For visitors to Max Gate, who visit the small garret bedroom that Emma once lived in, and leave the house to walk the same alley of bending boughs that Hardy walked, this poem is both alive and poignant. Pity Florence, who witnessed Hardy’s unhappy relationship with Emma, then had to deal with his remorse amid a flood of memories that found voice in his elegies, published only months after her own marriage to Thomas.

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!

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, Unmoved, unknowing That your great going
Had place that moment, and altered all.

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!

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.

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."

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!