Neutral Tones

Neutral Tones

by Thomas Hardy 

We stood by a pond that winter day,
And the sun was white, as though chidden of God,
And a few leaves lay on the starving sod;
– They had fallen from an ash, and were gray.

Your eyes on me were as eyes that rove
Over tedious riddles of years ago;
And some words played between us to and fro
On which lost the more by our love.

The smile on your mouth was the deadest thing
Alive enough to have strength to die;
And a grin of bitterness swept thereby
Like an ominous bird a-wing….

Since then, keen lessons that love deceives,
And wrings with wrong, have shaped to me
Your face, and the God curst sun, and a tree,
And a pond edged with grayish leaves.

Summary of Neutral Tones

  • Popularity of the Poem, “Neutral Tones”: The poem was written by Thomas Hardy, a great English poet and novelist. ‘Neutral Tones’ is one of the best poems about love and sadness. It was first published in 1898 in Wessex Poems and Other Verses. The poem speaks about the end of a relationship and its psychological aftereffects. It also illustrates how that incident left a permanent mark on the speaker’s memory.
  • “Neutral Tones” as a Representative of Lost Love: This poem is about an acute pain inflicted upon the speaker by his beloved who had left him. The poem begins with a reflection upon the memory of a winter day where the speaker is standing near a pond with his beloved. He attempts to describe the winter season with his gloomy eyes where the sun is white and fallen leaves are grey. The coldness of the weather reminds him of the cold relationship his beloved once shared with him. Her tired eyes coupled with less communication and fake smile with a grin of bitterness made him think that love has become meaningless to the lady. This heart-wrenching experience has made him neutral in life. Also, it has taught him a lifelong lesson that even love changes with the season.
  • Major Themes in “Neutral Tones”: Love, loss, memory, and emotions are the major themes of this poem. The poem captures the speaker’s neutral approach toward life. Throughout the poem, he talks about the estranged lover and reflects the significant and tragic moment in the past, which resulted in the traumatic end of their relationship. He recalls her fake smiles and cold responses that symbolize their love perished. However, on the one hand, this incident gives him unbearable pain, while on the other hand, it teaches him a lesson that even emotions and relations change with the spinning wheel of seasons.

Analysis of Literary Devices Used in “Neutral Tones”

Literary devices are tools used by writers to convey their emotions, ideas, and themes to make texts more appealing to the reader. Thomas Hardy has also used some literary devices in this poem to enhance the intended impact of the poem. The analysis of some of the literary devices used in this poem has been given below.

  1. Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line. For example, the sound of /i/ in ‘Over tedious riddles of years ago’.
  2. Alliteration: Alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line in quick succession such as the sound of /w/ in ‘And wrings with wrong, have shaped to me’ and the sound of /f/ ‘They had fallen from an ash, and were gray’, and the sound of /l/ in ‘And a few leaves lay on the starving sod’.
  3. Consonance: Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line such as the sound of /d/ in ‘Over tedious riddles of years ago’ and the sound of /n/ in ‘They had fallen from an ash’.
  4. Enjambment: It is defined as a thought in a verse that does not come to an end at a line break; rather, it rolls over to the next line. For example,

“And some words played between us to and fro
On which lost the more by our love.”

  1. Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things involving their five senses. For example, “We stood by a pond that winter day”, “The smile on your mouth was the deadest thing”, and “Your face, and the God curst sun, and a tree.”
  2. Oxymoron: It is a figure of speech in which apparently contradictory terms appear in conjunctions. For example, in the opening line of the third stanza it is stated as, “The smile on your mouth was the deadest thing.” Here, the smile presents the duality of human nature.
  3. Personification: Personification is to give human qualities to inanimate objects. For example, love is personified in the last stanza, ‘Since then, keen lessons that love deceives’.
  4. Symbolism: Symbolism is a use of symbols to signify ideas and qualities, by giving them symbolic meanings that are different from their literal meanings. The winter symbolizes sadness and melancholy.

Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in “Neutral Tones”

Poetic and literary devices are the same, but a few are used only in poetry. Here is the analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this poem.

  1. End Rhyme: End Rhyme is used to make the stanza melodious. For example, “God/sod”, “day/gray”, “thing/wing” and “me/tree.”
  2. Quatrain: A quatrain is a four-lined stanza borrowed from Persian poetry. Here each stanza is a quatrain.
  3. Rhyme Scheme: The poem follows the ABAB rhyme scheme and this pattern continues till the end.
  4. Stanza: A stanza is a poetic form of some lines. There are four stanzas in this poem with each having four verses.

Quotes to be Used

The lines stated below are useful when talking about the winter season. These can also be used when describing a personal experience of enjoying a cold day out.

“We stood by a pond that winter day,
And the sun was white, as though chidden of God,
And a few leaves lay on the starving sod;
– They had fallen from an ash, and were gray”