Neutral Tones by Thomas Hardy Analysis: AQA Love and Relationships

Neutral Tones by Thomas Hardy

We stood by a pond that winter day…

Thomas Hardy

Welcome back to Beyond English’s AQA Love and Relationships poetry bonanza. This week, we’re exploring Neutral Tones by Thomas Hardy. We’ll be focusing on:

  • Context
  • Structure
  • Analysis

Neutral Tones Context

Neutral Tones by Thomas Hardy was written in 1867 but published years later in 1898. Thomas Hardy was a Dorset-born poet who struggled with an unhappy marriage for many years. In this poem, the narrator speaks of a memory of a winter’s day when he and his lover stood by a pond. It is clear that the relationship was on shaky ground and, in the last stanza, it becomes clear that the narrator learned bleak lessons about love from the event. Much of Hardy’s poetry and fiction is regarded as pessimistic in tone. 

Neutral Tones Structure

The poet addresses his former lover. The poem begins and ends with the image by the pond but, while the first three stanzas discuss a specific event, the final stanza deals with his feelings in the years since the experience by the pond, which makes for a more general poem about negative experiences of love. The final two lines return the poet to the scene by the pond, creating a cyclical feel to the poem. This reminds us that this type of relationship breakdown may have occurred again and again for the poet throughout his life. 

The first and last lines of each stanza rhyme, in the form ABBA. This may show the nature of relationships – sometimes couples can be close (the BB rhyme) and at other times they are separated by feelings or space (the AA rhymes). The stanzas are further enhanced by the pause and indentation of the final line of each stanza. 

Neutral Tones Poem Analysis

The neutrality of the poem reflects the lack of deep feelings between the pair in the poem. This is enhanced by the ‘grey’ nature of the environment. It is winter, reflecting the coldness of the couple towards one another. Even the ‘sun was white’ as though bleached of colour, life and warmth. This is reflected in the lover’s smile, described as the ‘deadest thing’. Eyes, normally a feature relished and praised in love poems, are here used to reflect the feeling of misunderstanding and distance between the lovers. 

Despite the poem maintaining a ‘neutral’ tone throughout, the poet still expresses emotions of anger. The pain and bitterness he sometimes feels about love is clear from phrases like ‘wrings with wrong’ and ‘God-curst’ and ‘chidden of God’. The tone is bitter as the poet resents his lover and the ‘keen lessons’ that love has taught him over the years. 

The theme of romantic love’s end is also found in When We Two Parted and the idea of troubled relationships is found in Winter Swans. Memories are also explored in Follower, Eden Rock and Walking Away

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