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Neutral Tones Essay

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An Analysis of Neutral Tones by Thomas Hardy Essay

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An Analysis of Neutral Tones by Thomas Hardy

"We stood by a pond that winter day," (1) This line indicates a still quietness, with lack of the movement of life. There is a vast difference in appearance and movement around a pond in winter and a pond in the midst of summer. This indicates no leaves, and no visible signs of life. The poet is painting a stark and lifeless scene.

"And the sun was white, as though chidden of God,"(2) This is indicative of the modernist approach to light as being too harsh and not a positive factor. Chidden means scolded, rebuked, or even blamed. God is not looking favorably upon these people.

"And a few leaves lay on the starving sod;"(3) Leaves fall from trees when they are dead, and the…show more content…

This stanza ties in with the first stanza and lets the reader know it is the beautiful love between these two people that is dying on this cold winter day.

"The smile on your mouth was the deadest thing"(9) is a very telling line. She is pretending to be kind and to smile, but he sees through her and knows it is false. Her smile appears deader to him than the fallen leaves do.

"Alive enough to have strength to die; /And a grin of bitterness swept thereby " (10-11). These lines show that the poet realizes some life in her smile, but not what he wants to see. There is a difference between a genuinely happy smile and a forced grin, and the latter is what he sees on her face.

"Like an ominous bird a-wing..."(12) foretells her leaving him. He is seeing in her forced grin an omen of bad luck. Many people see owls as an omen of death if they hoot outside their window for seven nights in a row. It is in this sense that the poet speaks of her dead smile.

"Since then, keen lessons that love deceives," (13). This line is a reflective line from the poet on his feelings of her deceit toward him. He loved her and she broke his heart by lying to him.

"And wrings with wrong, have shaped to me"(14) tells that she wronged him and changed him because of it.

"Your face, and the God-curst sun, and a tree, / And a pond edged with grayish leaves"(15-16). He will never get out of his mind that moment in time. Her face, the sun, a tree,

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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.

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