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Summary Of Neutral Tones By Thomas Hardy English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1104 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The speaker addresses an estranged lover and reminisces about a foreseen moment in their past, from where he already anticipates the demise of their relationship. The first three stanzas (lines 1-12) describe the past incident when the speaker faces the bleak moments of a break up process. The speaker is mentally perturbed by the disillusions of love, believing that things were once beautiful. He is frustrated when love perishes and felt deceived by the sweet promises love had to offer.

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It started off with cold winter where the speaker “stood by a pond” with his lover and everything was neutral in colour with sombre effects of whites and greys to depict the sense of hopelessness and death in all living things. The tension gradually picks up in the second stanza where the speaker explores deeper into the nature of their relationship: “Your eyes on me were as eyes that rove over tedious riddles solved years ago.”, which is interpreted to mean that the couple had repeated fights with no progress in their relationship. The insignificance of their communication exposed through the tired and morbid undertone seen in lines such as “And some words played between us to and fro-“. This shows fundamental flaws in their communication, making a meaningful relationship seem impossible. The first line of the third stanza describing her smile contains a disheartening oxymoron. Usually, a facial gesture would be associated with happiness and joy; where as in “Neutral Tones” the smile is described as “the deadest thing”. The cold causality of the gesture serves as reminder to the bitterness of the poem. This oxymoronic metaphor continues, with the phrase: “alive enough to have the strength to die”. This phrase further enhances the emotional turmoil experienced by the speaker, presenting a horrifying image of something that just has enough energy to die. Based from this line, the speaker had already known that his lover would deceive him in love; just as her “smile” that defeats the purpose of joy and happiness. Lastly, the fourth stanza reflects upon the memories of the past incident and explains on the nature of love. It is a sad, pessimistic and melancholic poem that portrays love as painful and never lasting till it is fragilely doomed.

What meanings do you find in the title?

The poet tells on the termination of a relationship creates its melancholic note in the title itself, called “Neutral Tones”. Ironically, the colours of landscape are “neutral” but the lover’s features, as in her eyes and smile, may seemed neutral but they are in fact bitter and hurtful. Throughout the poem, a variety of techniques are used to highlight sadness and emotions in the speaker with soothing yet depressing language that functions on duality. Neutrality effects from the poem may seem calm and soothing, yet it contradicts to the real meaning of the context, which actually depicts hopelessness and disillusionments about love.

Explain in your own words the metaphor in line 2.

In line 2, Hardy uses a very “neutral” monosyllabic word like “the sun was white, as though chidden of God”. The sun that normally appears to be yellow, symbolizes happiness and life. But in “Neutral Tones”, as the title suggests that all living things and nature becomes sombre in colour, which in this context the sun becomes white to create the feelings of frigidity as well as to symbolize the coldness of the relationship within the poem. The speaker once thought that love would be a happy and lively feeling of joy, instead of having a tragic ending of coldness towards the relationship. Sadly, even a possible hope of love has been “chidden of God” as if it is cursed and forbidden.

What connotations appropriate to this poem does the ash (line 4) have that oak or maple would lack?

The ash carries a double meaning, where as oak and maple merely mean a type of tree. Unlike the maple and oak, ash could also means a grey powdery substance that is left after something is burnt besides having another meaning as a type of tree. In other words, Hardy uses ash to connote to the demise of the speaker’s relationship as well as the love that fades in time. Hardy creates a gloomy environment with a grey ash to emit the ambiance of a winter season where everything is neutral in colour. The “few leaves”, which have fallen from the ash gives hint towards the dying of life. Yet, it is not life that died, but love.

What visible objects in the poem function symbolically? What actions or gestures?

The setting contributes to a mood of torpor or constriction 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 “grey” and come from an “ash”: Both words reinforce the gloominess of this colorless, inert scene. Essentially, Hardy creates a dying environment to symbolize a perishing relationship. In addition to serving as an objective correlative, the bleak world Hardy describes in “Neutral Tones” also symbolizes the speaker’s dead relationship. Through his use of imagery, construction of the poem, and paradoxes, Hardy creates a bleak world of once-beautiful things lying in despair, which invokes a sense of hopelessness and melancholia in the reader.

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The description of the woman’s glance and their conversation suggests that their love had become boring and meaningless to her. Things become even direr 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.” use of symbolism is the “ominous bird a-wing”, this could have been put in as a kind of prolepsis to the final stanza, the ominous bird representing his know shattered trust, the word “ominous” almost suggest something paganistic about this. The pain predicted by this bitter grin is confirmed in stanza 4 the death of their relationship, but even more pain and suffering followed in the deceptions and wrongs that ensued. 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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