'Neutral Tones' by Thomas Hardy

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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 solved 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.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Neutral Tones: A Masterpiece by Thomas Hardy

Do you feel the chill of winter in your bones? Do you feel the shroud of melancholy wrap around your heart? Then you are ready to experience the haunting beauty of Neutral Tones, a poem by Thomas Hardy that will leave you breathless with its precise imagery, its subtle music, and its poignant message about love and loss.

First published in 1898, Neutral Tones is a quintessential example of Hardy's poetic style, which combines realism, fatalism, and symbolism to create a unique vision of the world. In this poem, Hardy depicts a scene of desolation and despair, set in a wintry landscape where everything seems frozen and lifeless. The speaker of the poem recounts a meeting with a former lover, whose eyes and lips he remembers as "death-masked" and "ashamed".

The poem is composed of four equal stanzas, each with four lines and a rhyme scheme of ABBA. This structure creates a sense of symmetry and balance, which contrasts with the emotional turbulence of the speaker's thoughts and feelings. The first stanza sets the tone of the poem with its opening line, "We stood by a pond that winter day," which evokes a sense of solitude and isolation. The speaker describes the landscape in detail, using words like "grating" and "wrings", to emphasize its harshness and emptiness. He also mentions the presence of a "smile" and a "tear" in the eyes of his former lover, suggesting a complex mix of emotions that cannot be easily deciphered.

The second stanza deepens the sense of despair and regret, as the speaker recalls the words that were exchanged between him and his former lover. He remembers her saying "your eyes on me were as eyes that rove" and himself replying "We have been friends now, for so long". These lines convey a sense of disillusionment and detachment, as if the couple had lost the passion and intimacy that once bound them together. The speaker also describes the color of the leaves and the sky as "gray", which suggests a lack of vitality and warmth.

The third stanza intensifies the sense of loss and resignation, as the speaker realizes that their love has died and nothing can bring it back. He compares their parting to the "grinning" of an "evil thing" and the sinking of the sun into the "gray" horizon. These images convey a sense of finality and inevitability, as if the couple were fated to separate and suffer. The speaker also describes the tone of their conversation as "wrangling", which suggests a sense of bitterness and resentment.

The fourth stanza concludes the poem with a powerful image of silence and stillness. The speaker describes how the "wrinkled" water of the pond mirrored the "wrinkled" faces of the couple, as if they were both aging and dying. He also mentions the presence of a broken branch that "hung" over the water, suggesting a sense of fragility and vulnerability. The final lines of the poem, "And a few leaves lay on the starving sod; -- / --They had fallen from an ash, and were gray", capture the essence of the poem's theme, which is the transience and futility of human love.

Neutral Tones is a masterpiece of poetic technique and emotional resonance. Hardy's use of imagery, metaphor, and symbol creates a world that is both realistic and symbolic, both bleak and beautiful. The poem's message about the fragility and impermanence of human relationships is universal and timeless, and resonates with readers of all ages and cultures. Neutral Tones is a poem that demands to be read and reread, savored and analyzed, and appreciated for its timeless beauty and wisdom.

So, what are you waiting for? Dive into the icy waters of Neutral Tones and discover the depths of human emotion and experience.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Thomas Hardy's "Neutral Tones" is a classic poem that has stood the test of time. It is a poem that is both beautiful and haunting, and it speaks to the human condition in a way that few other poems can. In this analysis, we will explore the themes, imagery, and language of "Neutral Tones" to gain a deeper understanding of this masterpiece.

The poem begins with the speaker describing a scene in which he and his lover are standing by a pond. The scene is bleak and lifeless, with the sun barely shining through the clouds. The speaker describes the scene in great detail, using language that is both vivid and melancholic. He describes the pond as "a few leaves lay on the starving sod," and the sun as "white as though chidden of God." These descriptions create a sense of emptiness and despair, setting the tone for the rest of the poem.

As the poem progresses, the speaker reflects on the relationship that he had with his lover. He describes it as a love that was once passionate and intense, but has now faded away. He says that their love was "love once, such as it was, is now." This line is particularly poignant, as it suggests that their love was never really strong to begin with, and that it was always destined to fade away.

The theme of love and its transience is a central theme in "Neutral Tones." The poem explores the idea that love is often fleeting and that it can be difficult to sustain over time. The speaker's reflections on his relationship with his lover suggest that he is struggling to come to terms with the fact that their love has faded away. He describes their love as "the smile on your mouth was the deadest thing," suggesting that their relationship has become lifeless and devoid of emotion.

The imagery in "Neutral Tones" is also significant. The pond, which is described as "grayish leaves," is a symbol of the speaker's emotional state. The fact that the leaves are "starving" suggests that the speaker is also emotionally starved, and that his relationship with his lover has left him feeling empty and unfulfilled. The sun, which is described as "white as though chidden of God," is also a powerful symbol. It suggests that the speaker feels abandoned by God, and that he is struggling to find meaning in his life.

The language in "Neutral Tones" is also significant. The poem is written in a very simple and straightforward style, with short, declarative sentences. This style creates a sense of detachment and emotional distance, which is appropriate given the theme of the poem. The use of repetition is also significant. The phrase "the smile on your mouth was the deadest thing" is repeated twice, creating a sense of finality and closure.

In conclusion, "Neutral Tones" is a powerful and haunting poem that explores the theme of love and its transience. The imagery and language in the poem are both significant, creating a sense of emptiness and despair that is difficult to shake. The poem is a reminder that love is often fleeting, and that it can be difficult to sustain over time. It is a poem that speaks to the human condition in a way that few other poems can, and it is a testament to Thomas Hardy's skill as a poet.

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