In Thomas Hardy’s poem, “The Voice,” repetition and rhyme create a haunting echo, sounding out a persistent tugging of desire that can neither be escaped nor fulfilled:
Woman much missed, how you call to me, call to me,Saying that now you are not as you wereWhen you had changed from the one who was all to me,But as at first, when our day was fair.
Read this stanza once, and the earworm will burrow into your mind. You can’t not feel the pain of longing in the repetition of the phrase, “call to me, call to me,” which is subsequently rhymed and ironically reduced to “all to me”—an echo of a former fullness that may never come again. You might not realize that you’re hearing a dactylic meter (“CALL to me, CALL to me”), but your body feels the strong beat that diminishes over time. Hardy’s sound patterns rehearse the inevitability of loss and the persistence of desire.
Today we received some good news about our sons Thomas and Luke on the college admissions front (nothing’s final until April, but they’re going to college!). I’ve shared the news with my father and in-laws, because telling grandparents never feels like boasting. It feels more like giving them compliment—a way of saying, “Look who you helped bring into the world! Look who is carrying on your legacy!”
While I am bursting with joy and pride, I’m gutted by longing. I want to call my mother and tell her the news, too, because one else on earth would be more pleased than she.* My mom would remember holding those tiny babies in the hospital just after they were born, marveling at their big, bony heads and thin, fragile limbs, wondering how they ever came into being and how we would ever manage to keep them alive. My mom would feel the way I feel: a curious mixture of surprise and awe, combined with a sense of deja-vu, because we should have known and always have known how marvelous are these beings who have somehow, miraculously, become young men.
I don’t know if my longing is any different because my mom is still alive but prevented by Alzheimer’s from comprehending the news. I do know that, even though she’s alive, I’m already much missing her:
Thus I; faltering forward,Leaves around me falling,Wind oozing thin through the thorn from norward,And the woman calling.
In this case, though, I’m faltering forward, and I’m the woman calling. Thank goodness those boys are marching on.
*I say “on earth” in deference to my mother-in-law, Jane Churchill, who would be thrilled, too, though she probably would have been just as delighted by the “artistic” arrangements of laundry Luke and Thomas have left on the floor of their room. Jane had a knack for finding beauty in things as they are, whereas my mom has always preferred things in their best form, especially when folded and neatly arranged.
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