The fourth stanza is finally one of total despair; however this is done without breaking the neutral melancholic tone of the poem. The narrator begins using phrases like "love deceives", indicating an inner pain and turmoil yet to heal. He goes on to say that he was "shaped" by the "wrings with wrong", this alliteration shows how much mental anguish he has been through and we get to almost share his pain. The poem ends as it began, using neutral monosyllabic words. The change in the character becomes obvious, instead of referring to the sun as "white", he now refers to it as the "God-curst sun" reflecting the character's emotions changing from sadness to anger. The final line "And a pond edged with greyish leaves echoes the pond the speaker recalls at the beginning.
The fact that the poem ends with "a pond edged with grey leaves" makes it circuitous as it ends at the pond where the poem is set at the start. Also, the depressed mood of the poem reflects the pessimism shown by Hardy in much of his poetry work. This pessimism was caused by many things: the industrialisation of Britain which meant that the traditional way of life in his country roots were lost; the expansion of the British empire which he opposed; his unhappy first marriage; and his fear and dislike of change.
The lure of "Neutral Tones" by Thomas Hardy, is in its subtle familiarity. Although the poem describes the breaking off of a relationship, the reader quickly finds the speaker is neither fondly nor bitterly recalling the event. By avoiding every sensory image except for sight, abstaining from definition, and coloring in neither bright nor dark tones, the author purposefully distances the reader from the event. The poem's appeal lies not in its allusion to lost love, but in the passing of pain with time. This pale scene reveals the aging of painful memories that occurs but each of us so often forgets.
The first clue that the poem conveys something more than a painful memory is in the title. "Neutral Tones" immediately encourages the reader to postpone any positive or negative inferences until the author makes his meaning clear. In a sense we are left out rather then taken in. This is the first of many distancing devices.
To describe the scene without placing the reader in it, the author creates images using the sense most commonly used from a distance: sight. Not only does the author avoid contact with the other senses, he methodically insures this isolation. We see a sun without warmth: "And the sun was white, as though chidden of God" (line 2). He portrays words as costly and attributes them with physical rather than acoustical characteristics: "And some words played between us to and fro / On which lost the more by our love" (7-8). While smells are simply avoided, the dearth of tastes is re-enforced: "And a few leaves lay on the starving sod;" (3). Using images appealing only to sight helps to produce this view from the outside looking in.
Similarly, the poem's lack of definition allows the reader to see this painful memory as similar to a personal experience without demanding the recollection of details better forgotten. Several things are purposely unclear: whether the speaker is male or female, which person ended the relationship, and who or if anyone was at fault. This comfortable obscurity encourages the reader to identify with the speaker, and assures that the similarity is tenuous at best. Instead of by pushing the reader out, the distance here is created by pulling the reader in, but only to the point of familiarity.