Read Thomas Hardy’s “The Going” at the Poetry Connection’s web page.
Anyone who has ever lost a beloved wife or husband can relate to this sad, grief filled poem. Thomas Hardy’s wife, Emma, died suddenly of an illness, and this 1912 first-person poem is all about him and his feelings. Some have even called this poem “whining” and overly maudlin.
Maudlin or not, it is also almost a complaint where, even in the first line of the first stanza, he asks, “Why did you give no hint that night / …(that) You would close your term here, up and be gone…”? Even if the reader knew nothing of Hardy’s personal loss, one can see that this is all about dying. In the first stanza, again, the poet tells us that the object of this poem went “Where I could not follow /… To gain one glimpse of you ever anon!”
In the second stanza, the author tells of how his world has been altered permanently. Worse yet, he chides her again for having “Never to bid good-bye /…Or utter a wish for a word…” Yet, even as she died, the morning came to “harden on the wall.” Little did he know that her “great going / Had place that moment, and altered all.”
In the third stanza, the poet ramps up his grief to almost a statement of blame or indictment. “Why do you make me leave the house…?” the author complains, only to see “The yawning blankness …” as he thinks “for a breath” it is her he sees “At the end of the alley of bending boughs.” This stanza reeks of dark gloom and self-pity that is nearly unbearable.
The author brightens up somewhat in stanza four as he reminds himself of his earlier days with his Emma when she was alive. She was, it seemed, seemingly immortal. She lived “by those red-veined rocks far West,” and she was part of the “very best” while “Life unrolled” it.
Next, the poet states what every grieving person must feel remembering love’s acquaintance becoming overly familiar as the original spark inevitably leaves a relationship. There is kind of a double-barreled grief there. It is the regret that they might have said “of those days long dead” that “In this bright spring weather” they might again visit “Those places that once we visited.”
In the last stanza, though, the author accepts the “unchangeable” change: “…All’s past (beyond) amend.” If possible, though, he gets even gloomier. He tells Emma, “I seem but a dead man held on end/To sink down soon…” But he again, castigates poor, mute Emma with a parting shot that reaches the zenith of his self-pity: “…O you could not know / That such swift fleeing /…would undo me so.”
In the final analysis, though, grief is more about those left behind than those who die, and are beyond the sense of loss that death brings. The poet, then, can probably be pardoned for an excess of self-pity. Maybe, however, he should not have been so tough on poor Emma. She was the one who got sick and died, after all.