Neutral Tones- Thomas Hardy

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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.

 

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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,

         And a pond edged with grayish leaves.

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Comments

Julie Ann Lee

This is such a vivid description of a dead love affair, even the landscape evokes the bitterness that exists between the couple through sound patterning, imagery and association. Hardy focuses on the bare essentials: the tree, the sun and the pond before resting on the face of the woman in almost the manor of a close-up. This is like a cinematic moment. The tragedy is the complete absence of warmth or sympathy and the chilling realisation that what once burned between them was extinguished long ago. The poem's circular structure brings us back to the memory of this unyielding landscape, suggesting stalemate. Only cold regret and bitterness remain for the narrator.

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