"Neutral Tones" by Thomas Hardy is very neutral in tone; its melancholic note is created by a narrator reflecting on the termination of a relationship. Throughout, a soothing yet depressing language illustrates this duality. Hardy uses a variety of techniques to highlight sadness and emotions in the narrator
In the first stanza the scene and atmosphere is set, "we stood by a pond that winter day". No harsh sounds are present and the sentence epitomises the tranquillity yet disheartening nature of the poem. In the second line we get even more of these very "neutral" monosyllabic words "the sun was white, as though chidden of God" in this sentence the poets attempt to stay within his own themes are very explicit by the use of the adjective "white" to describe the sun, the sun normally represented by the colour yellow and a symbol for happiness and life. The very dismal atmosphere is reinforced by the use of the alliteration of "L" creating a lazy yet unsatisfying tone. The further sibilance of "starving sod" creates a harsh sound, adding a further layer of hopelessness. The metaphor of the "few leaves" symbolises the end of an era, hinting towards the dying of life. Yet, it is not life that died, but love.
The first line of the third stanza, in describing her smile, contains a heart-wrenching oxymoron. Normally a facial gesture associated with happiness and joy, here it is described as "the deadest thing". This provokes strong emotion in the reader, as the cold causality of the gesture serves as reminder to the bitterness of the poem. This oxymoronic metaphor continues, having made an impression upon the reader; it is now described as only "alive enough to have the strength to die". This further enhances the emotional turmoil inside the reader, presenting a horrifying image of something that just has enough energy to die, without breaking "neutral tone". This is one of the reasons why this poem is so effective: distance and neutrality of its language serves as a perfect example of "less is sometimes more". Another interesting use of symbolism is the "ominous bird a-wing", a possible prolepsis to the final stanza, the ominous bird representing his now shattered trust, against an almost paganistic suggestion in "ominous".