Neutral Tones by Thomas Hardy

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Neutral Tones by Thomas Hardy (1867)

Neutral Tones
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,
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The lover’s eyes looking at the poet “were as eyes that rove”. The comparison raised in the use of the word “as” add to the idea that the lover has left in spirit and wandered away. The word “rove” adds movement to the scene leading into an enjambment between the first and second line. This reveals that the wandering of the lover is an internal one, one of remembrance concerned with “tedious riddles of years ago”. The past is strongly brought into the scene in this line with its emphasis on “years ago” which is created through the use of the semi-colon placed just after these words. The riddles themselves are “tedious” which seems to imply they no longer hold their appeal, have become monotonous because they are long known and understood, no longer difficult to understand they are now merely objects of the over’s distanced inspection. This distance and lack of meaning is furthered in the lines “And some words played between us to and fro/ / On which lost the more by our love”. The words are useless and empty, they merely play like a ball game “to and fro”. All meaning has become lost between the lovers, and in the last line this meaninglessness has been made worse because of the love that they once shared. In this is the tragedy of a love that has died.

Within the third stanza this tragedy and death is made even more apparent through the description of the lover’s smile:

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