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Comment on the Ways Hardy Presents a Sense of Loss in “Your Last Drive”

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Comment on the Ways Hardy Presents a Sense of Loss in “Your Last Drive”
The sudden loss of a loved one can reveal that a seemingly intimate, idyllic relationship can in fact be complex, distant and lifeless. In "Your Last Drive", by Thomas Hardy, it is indicated that although there may be no afterlife, the dead live on in our memories and through imaginative recreation. Hardy manages to depict these concepts through his intricate control of language.
One of the foremost ways in which Hardy expresses his sense of loss in the poem is through the constant flowing guilt that he drizzles throughout. The first stanza gives us a subtle hint about the conversation that Hardy might have had with his wife Emma a week before she died. When Emma got back from her ‘last drive’, she might have told Hardy that she simply loves the moor way road when the ‘borough lights’ are all turned on without realizing that these lights would never ‘beam on’ her again. Hardy has also contrasted Emma’s face before death and after death. Her face was ‘lit’ up a week before she died, but now she has ‘the face of dead’. Here, face is basically a synecdoche because the poet has used the word ‘face’ to describe the whole being of Emma. Even had Thomas been with her on the drive he now realises that he would not have looked at her long enough to read her state of health nor the thoughts that he then imagines might have been going through her mind. Hardy had no belief in a personal God or an afterlife, although Emma did. He therefore discounts any idea that she might still possess any sort of “knowledge” of what he is thinking or feeling. Death is a final parting of the ways, with one partner having an existence and the other having none. The nearest Hardy can come to imagining an afterlife for Emma is as a ghost, and it is to her ghost that this poem is addressed. With Emma dead, any feelings of rancor for past wrongs, done or imagined, have no further meaning and there is no point in raking up past ills. It is interesting that the wrongs for which forgiveness is now meaningless are those committed by Emma rather than by Thomas. It is Emma’s voice that says “should you censure me” and Thomas’s that says “shall I then slight you”. This is a last attempt at redemption by Hardy, suggesting that Hardy poses a rhetorical question to the now dead subject of the poem: in the past when something “moved” you, did you ask “what profit” do I gain from such emotions? The implication is that when humans experience strong emotions, we value those emotions for what they are. Therefore, when Hardy calls Emma “past love, praise, indifference, blame” he is saying that those memories were valuable for themselves. However, the “love, praise, indifference, blame” may also allude to Hardy and Emma’s overall relationship, and how it degenerated from the fresh passionate “love” of their youth, to ‘alien’ated ‘indifference’ and even ‘blame’. Hardy may be criticising himself for allowing their marriage to deteriorate to such a degree, that he only ‘glances’ at his wife when she comes in from a drive. He regrets not making amends while he had the chance and is now left filled with regret, lamenting the missed chances of redemption he had “Yet had I sat at your side”.

Hardy also utilises the poems’ rhyme scheme to reflect what he sees as the ultimate finality of Emma’s’ death and the subsequent loss he felt. The poem follows an ABABCC rhyme scheme, with each stanza ending in rhyming couplets which seem to inject a sense of finality, perhaps the end of a life. The regularity of this scheme may be a metaphor for the inevitability and regularity of death. This may be an attempt at self beratement by Hardy, scolding himself for not “read[ing] the writing upon [her] face” or it may simply be his way of stating that her death was inevitable and that he should not be so shocked about it, although this is unlikely. Also, the abrupt change in the rhyme scheme within the stanzas (ABAB to CC) may reflect the violent shock and loss felt by Hardy at the news of his wife’s death, as the first four lines of the stanza rhyme alternatively and flow to create a rhythm, then the peace is shattered, leaving an impact on the poem (Hardy) as the stanza (Emma) ends.
Hardy presents his sense of loss through the physical structure of the poem as well as through subtle hints at his and Emma’s relationship, and through questioning himself over his treatment of his wife throughout their life. The guilt that he implies in the third stanza coupled with the accusations and self justifications in the final two stanzas clearly illustrate Hardy’s intense feelings of loss churning through Hardy’s head as he wrote the poem.

Word Count: 838

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