Essay On Neutral Tones

Thomas Hardy’s poem “Neutral Tones” is a dramatic monologue consisting of four tetrameter quatrains. The speaker addresses an estranged lover and reminisces about a foreseen moment in their past, which anticipated the demise of their relationship. The first three stanzas describe the past incident, and the fourth stanza reflects upon this incident and the nature of love. It is a sad, pessimistic poem that portrays love as painful and doomed.

The first stanza paints the scene. Bleak landscape features set a dismal tone and reflect the bitter mindset of the speaker. The lovers stand by a pond on a winter day. Winter can be a lifeless season, and all the details of the scene contribute to a mood of torpor or constriction. Instead of being bright or even glaring, the sun is “white,” as if drained of all its vitality. Dead leaves lie on the ground as a reminder of the end of the natural cycle of life and death. These leaves are “gray” and come from an “ash”: Both words reinforce the gloominess of this colorless, inert scene. Other details contribute to a feeling of disappointment and threat. For example, the sun is described “as though chidden of God” and the ground is called the “starving sod.”

The next two stanzas, which describe the lover, sustain the dismal mood and increase the feeling of menace. The description of the woman’s glance and their conversation suggests that their love had become boring and meaningless to her. Things become even more dire in stanza 3, when the lover’s smile is likened—in a metaphor instead of the simile of stanza 2—to “the deadest thing/ Alive,” and her bitter grin is compared to “an ominous bird a-wing.”

The pain predicted by this bitter grin is confirmed in stanza 4. This moment spelled the death of their relationship, but even more pain and suffering followed in the deceptions and wrongs that ensued. The hurt that the speaker suffered is intensified by the puns on “keen,” “wring,” and “edge.” Used figuratively, the literal or concrete meanings of these words imply physical pain. The vagueness and generalized tone of this last stanza implies that the assertion that “love deceives,/ And wrings with wrongs” is a generalization that applies to all love, not just this particular love.


Ms Haseler

How does Hardy use nature in ‘Under the Waterfall’ and ‘Neural Tones’?

Nature is an important aspect in Hardy’s poetry as it often sets the mood andatmosphere of his poems. It also gives insight to the outcome of the subject of hispoems, such as in

Neutral Tones.


Under the Waterfall


Neutral Tones

, Hardyshows how important nature is, as the subject of it is in the title of the poem. Thelink of nature is illustrated throughout the whole poem; in the structure of thepoem itself and it is portrayed in the language and form. In

Under the Waterfall

,the structure of the poem is like a waterfall itself. The use of quatrains are provento be very effective in the way the poem is received by the audience as itemphasises, not only the flow of the rhythm in the verses, but also creates thefeeling of spell-like charm, giving it a nostalgic effect. The enjambment in thepoem effectively acts as a waterfall, as the structure mimics that of water flowing. This is significant as it emphasises the importance of water in the poem as itexhibits as a catalysts to the memory. The title,

Neutral Tones

gives connotationsof bleakness, monotony and disincentive sentiments. This is highlighted throughthe use of pathetic fallacy to represent the bitterness and death of Hardy andEmma’s love. The simple ABBA rhyme scheme shows the simplicity of their loveand of its dying nature which is exemplified through the use of pathetic fallacy.Hardy’s use of portraying nature’s importance by including it in the titles showshow significant it is to the overall mood of the poem.

Under the Waterfall

depictssentiments and atmosphere of reminiscence of past memories and nostalgia forthe past whereas

Neutral Tones

depicts the disconsolation of their relationship. Asmentioned before, structure plays a key part in the way the poem is received as itincludes a lot of nature’s aspects and features. For example, in Neutral


thepoem seems to be circular, in that it begins ‘by a pond that winter day’ and endsat ‘a pond edged with grayish leaves’. This represents that there is no real changeof view. The way the poem is set out also illustrates the seasonal changes innature. The poem starts on a ‘winter day’ and ends with ‘grayish leaves’ whichcould suggest the end of autumn and the start of winter. The link between theseasonal changes and there being no change in view shows the monotony of lifetogether and the nature of their love.

Neutral Tones

is told in the first person narrative as a dramatic monologue. Thenarrative aspect creates a story-like feel allowing the poem to sound more natural. The natural feel of the overall poem adds to the importance of nature and reflectsthe raw emotions in the poem. The tone in

Neutral Tones

is emotionally restrainedand shows the objective view that Hardy had towards their relationship. Hisbitterness towards love mirrors the death and decay of nature around him whichgives the piece a sombre and cold mood. The mood of the poem is supported bythe motif of bleak colours ‘that winter day’ which is a metaphor for theirrelationship.

Under the Waterfall

is written in first person narrative but also delvesinto the mind of the other character, Hardy as it seems to be a conversationbetween two people. The changing of speakers reflects the changing of nature and1

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