Department of English

Faculty of Arts, Chulalongkorn University


The Walk



Thomas Hardy

(June 2, 1840 – January 11, 1928)

You did not walk with me

Of late to the hill-top tree

       By the gated ways,

       As in earlier days;

       You were weak and lame,
       So you never came,
And I went alone, and I did not mind,
Not thinking of you as left behind.
I walked up there to-day
Just in the former way; 10
       Surveyed around
       The familiar ground
       By myself again:
       What difference, then?
Only that underlying sense 15
Of the look of a room on returning thence.



Emma Gifford Hardy: Thomas Hardy's first wife and the inspiration for the elegies of 1912–1913

Emma Gifford
Young Emma Gifford

Emma Hardy
Emma Hardy

Emma Hardy
Emma Hardy with one of her many cats

Emma HardyEmma Hardy "rather fantastically dressed" (Arthur C. Benson's diary, September 1912)




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 godd-bye
     Or lip me the softest call,
Or utter a wish for a word, while I 10
Saw morning harden upon a wall,
     Unmoved, unknowing
     That your great going
Had place that moment, and altered all.
Why do you make me leave the house 15
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 20
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, 25
     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, 30
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." 35
     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 40
     No soul foreseeing—
Not even I—would undo me so!


The Voice


Woman much missed, how you call to me, call to me,

Saying that now you are not as you were.

When you had changed from the one who was all to me,
But as at first, when our day was fair.


Can it be you that I hear? Let me view you, then, 5
Standing as when I drew near to the town
Where you would wait for me: yes, as I knew you then,
Even to the original air-blue gown!
Or is it only the breeze, in its listlessness
Travelling across the wet mead to me here, 10
You being ever dissolved to wan wistlessness,
Heard no more again far or near?
Thus I; faltering forward,
Leaves around me falling,
Wind oozing thin through the thorn from norward, 15
And the woman calling.


Poems of 1912–1913: Verteris Vestigia Flammae

       [page 158] Significantly, unlike most of Hardy's important poems, not one in this group of 21 verses was published in periodical form prior to volume publication. Whether this points to their inappropriateness as love poems coming from an unhappy marriage, or whether Hardy prepared them specifically for his forth collection, Satires of Circumstance, remains indeterminable. While biographers, eager for material, may prefer to read them autobiographically, the poet Middleton Murry, one of the first to perceive that they were not the poems of a "man giving way to memory in poetry," views them as the voice of "a great poet uttering the cry of the universe." Certainly their overall long-suffering gentleness goes some way to counterbalancing the waspish Satires, so in this respect they contribute importantly to the general tenor of Satires of Circumstance: Lyrics and Reveries. They are melodious even while encompassing a wide range of emotional experience.

       "The Going" opens the sequence with a theme all too familiar to the real-life Hardy—Emma's sudden disappearance (this theme is repeated in "Without Ceremony"). Unlike her habit of vanishing without warning and returning unannounced, in this instance she dies. "That such a swift fleeting/No soul foreseeing—/Not even I—would not undo me so!"

       Biographers have disputed Hardy's real-life amazement—not "foreseeing"—claiming that he must have known Emma was dying. This claim fails to take into account his inurement. With her unannounced disappearances, Hardy would probably have become hardened to what amounts to long-term manipulative behavior. Shocks repeatedly inflicted diminish in impact over time. Hardy would surely have learned to rely on the fact, if only for his own sanity, that she always returned, eventually.

       "The Going" mirrors something of this dilemma. There is indignation in the speaker's stance. The opening phrase, "Why did you give no hint..." is shaped to a refrain for stanzas 3 ("Why?") and 5 ("Why?"). At the same time, his sense of being up against the wall, so to speak, is evoked in stanzas 2 ad 6. Tone, tenor, and mood testify to an accumulated frustration, anxiety, and shock of the years. But being repeatedly abandoned is one thing; to be denied a return is something quite else—justifiably, the speaker feels completely destroyed.

       "Your Last Drive" turns upon the alienation of the spouses and, in common with "The Walk," poignantly acknowledges that "I drove not with you," just as in the latter poem "You did not walk with me."

--Rosemarie Morgan, Student Companion to Thomas Hardy (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2007)


       [page 338] When Hardy's estranged wife Emma died suddenly at Max Gate in late November 1912 the shock propelled him into an intense period of artistic creativity. "Yes: what you say is true," he told his friend, Edward Clodd, "One forgets all the recent years & differences, & the mind goes back to the early times when each was much to the other" (Letters, 4:239). His loneliness and alienation in marriage complicated by the emotional pressures of bereavement moved him to sublimate in verse the pain and misery of recent years in a reification of the woman he had once longed to love.


       [page 339] As has been crudely publicized, Hardy read his wife's diaries after her death and found himself a brutally insensitive husband. Guilty—cruelly so. The bereaved husband reading the secret dairies of his estranged spouse might encounter nothing less; indeed, it may be that a suicide could not have injured him more. These brutalities, the promulgations of a sensationalist media are, naturally, nowhere to be seen in Green Blades. Wholly in sympathy with Claire Tomalin's gentle understanding of Hardy's "rediscovery of repressed sorrow and forgotten love" (The Time-Torn Man), Mark Cazelet's images reflect deeply on the scrupulous honesty of the poet, creating an effect of spare, candid, minimalist yet intriguingly ambiguous lines and shapes reflecting Hardy's own lines and shapes in their experimental and psychologically complex forms. According to the publisher, each of Cazelet's images (twenty-two, total) is formed from one woodcut and one linocut and printed directly from the original blocks. "Five colours are involved for which the inks were specially mixed by Cranfield Colours." Primary colors plus two, the hues of a rainbow. Moreover, the sequence of the images is carefully arranged to mirror the growth of self-awareness as it is expressed in Hardy's poems: the self-doubt, the illusive aspects of memory; the startle of short, sharp insights. In his poem, "The Walk," the speaker experiences the strange un-ghosting of a room where once a woman had waited for him.

       The musing voice recalls that "You did not walk with me / of late" because "you" were too "weak and lame" (Emma, too, was lame). Then, the focus shifts from the "you" to the "hill-top tree" and the "gated ways"—that is, to the horizon and the end in sight via the pathways to be taken. "Not thinking of you as left behind," he says. But now she's no longer there to be "left behind" things are strangely different. Why should returning to an empty room matter now if earlier he hadn't ever thought of her as "left behind"? Perhaps because she has now left him behind? Perhaps because in her absence on the walks she was always—in a taken-for-granted way—present? He can't exactly pinpoint "What difference, then?": "Only that underlying sense / Of the look of a room on returning thence."
       That small exclusivity in "Only" chills a little because it exposes the fragility, the mereness of the contingency—the indeterminacy of the "look" of things. "Lonely" echoes in "Only" but it remains unspoken, for that isn't quite it. He was alone before but there's a difference now: the "room" looks back at him just as surely as he looks at the "room" where once there was a woman looking.

--Rosemarie Morgan, "Thomas Hardy," Victorian Poetry 46.3 (2008)

[page 166] Here he is direct, passionate and, above all, perceptive. He creates poetry from the welter of commonplace pangs and ponderings that make up our reaction to the destructive magnitude of death. So we recognize the reaction, are struck by Hardy's unerring observation of it, and are strongly inclined to believe in the true emotion behind each poem. 'The Walk' (CP p. 340) is an excellent example [...]

[page 167] The beautiful simplicity of this arises from the calm matter-of-fact tone Hardy adopts and from his avoidance of all metaphor, all intricacy of rhyme and rhythm and all inversion and complication of speech. Very few poets can succeed in the absence of these elements. What we are offered is one curious moment of sad wonder, one insight into the nature of loss clearly and poignantly presented; but for all this simplicity the emotion in the poem is too complicated for invention, too odd not to be Hardy's own. 

--Lance St. John Butler, Thomas Hardy (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1978)

       [page 176] Perhaps 'The Walk', one of Hardy's most beautiful and painful poems, puts this state of mind most clearly [...]

       After the strict neutrality of the opening lines, 'You were weak and lame' might be pitying, or it might have an undercurrent of suppressed anger at her weak and lame excuses, a suggestion bolstered by the stress possibilities of 'So you never came'. If on 'you', it simply emphasises that you didn't come and I did; but if on 'never', it makes her action irritatingly perpetual in the manner typical of long-term domestic irritation ('you never do the washing-up'), especially as he has previously said that she did come in the past. With this in mind, saying that 'I did not mind' might be protesting a bit much, for as the poem progresses, not minding or caring come to mean something quite the opposite. If he did not think of her as left behind, the implication of the second stanza is that nothing has changed [...]

       The understated sensitivity of this last line must have inspired one of Larkin's best openings, 'Home is so Sad':

Home is so sad. It stays as it was left,

Shaped to the comfort of the last to go

As if to win them back.


        Rooms look the same on returning to them, which is how we know that we have changed. By insisting that nothing externally has altered between then and now, the poem makes its point backhandedly, for noticing the unexpected continuity is testimony that something has [end of page 176] happened. The very indifference of gate, hill or tree is noticeable because it should not be so, and the same charge is tacitly being made against his own 'not thinking' and not minding.

--Peter Howarth, British Poetry in the Age of Modernism (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2005)



Study Questions









Sample Student Responses to Hardy's "The Walk" 


Response 1:

Study Question:






Student Name

2202234 Introduction to the Study of English Literature

Acharn Puckpan Tipayamontri

June 12, 2010

Reading Response 1

















Thomas Hardy



Hardy, Thomas. The Pinnacled Tower: Selected Poems by Thomas Hardy. Ed. Helen Plotz. New York: Macmillan, 1975. Print.


Further Reading

Hardy, Thomas. Collected Short Stories. Introd. Desmond Hawkins. London: Papermac, 1989. Print.

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Last updated October 5, 2014