Written in 1867, this poem was one of Hardy’s most praised around the world. To give an overview of ‘Neutral Tones’, it is based on the narrator’s picture of the end of a relationship. The Majority of the poem is based on a sort of ‘snap-shot’ in time and Hardy uses language to create a seemingly bleak and ‘tedious’ atmosphere.
In the first stanza Hardy purposely avoid describing the woman he is with, which conveys a strong feeling to the reader that he does not want to think back to this time in the past. A sense of bleakness is conveyed in this stanza; ‘starving sod’ and ‘were gray’ suggest that Hardy is setting up a scene in the reader’s mind which conveys a sense of having no desire to describe a time that he doesn’t necessarily want to look back to. This lack of any deep, vivid description emphasizes a lack of movement and a lack of energy throughout the stanza.
The second stanza includes the first form of description of the woman involved. Hardy creates a vivid image of a fed up attitude to what is occurring when he writes: ’eyes that rove over tedious riddles’. This highlights a lack of attention and a lack of interest as the characters revisit problems ‘solved years ago’. The atmosphere created by this stanza relates strongly to the title of the poem because the atmosphere created by Hardy is a careless one, not being positive or negative. Hardy is hiding the emotions underneath this because there is a irregular rhythm and rhyme pattern. This rare irregularity shown by Hardy shows that there is an underlying feeling within him that he is suppressing.
The contrast between different language in the third stanza is used by Hardy to highlight the bitter situation he was in, ‘grin of bitterness’ and ‘alive enough to have strength to die’ both suggest polar opposites of life and death for emphasis. The usage of words such as; ‘deadest’, ‘die’, ‘bitterness’ and ‘ominous’ again emphasise a dark and bleak tone. This tone aids the reader in creating a vivid image in their mind. The additional simile highlights again the ‘neutral tones’ involved in the poem: ‘Like an ominous bird a-wing’.
There is a greater use of punctuation in the final stanza, highlighting the shift in time with caesura such as, ‘since then, keen lessons’. Also, the repetition of an ‘r’ sound in the second line highlights again, although momentarily, the suppressed emotions that are contained within Hardy. Another example of this emotion inside Hardy is: ‘love deceives’. Hardy summarizes the poem with describing the only elements of the story he wants to remember which helps him return to his former suppression. Hardy says; ‘God-curst sun’ using caesura, to draw out the focus of the stanza onto that specific moment.
By Romilly Carboni