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Extended commentary of 'Neutral Tones' by Thomas Hardy

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Introduction

´╗┐Neutral Tones: On the Title: "Neutral Tones" encourages the reader to postpone any immediate inferences about the poem. It also refers to the muted ("monochrome") colour scheme found in the first and last stanzas; these colours, in turn, are used by Hardy to emphasise the blandness/"deadness" of the emotions between the persona and his love. Thus the title is an introduction to both the poem's images and emotional back-drop. Themes: Love (cruelty of it), Distance, Pain Overall Structure: A four stanza lyric with a continuous A/B/A/B rhyme scheme. These repeated ideas may add to the idea of monotony or dullness in emotion. This is a weak idea, however. First Stanza Notes: Hardy presents a scene and a persona. The use of the personal pronoun "we" has two effects: 1) It establishes a subtle familiarity between the reader and the persona - we can partially associate with the persona if he/she (sex is not made explicitly clear) through the simple use of the pronoun. 2) The lack of fixed gender does also add to a feeling of distance - distancing effects are used throughout the poem and will be explored. This particular one is maintained throughout. The scene presented is one of two figures standing by a pond; nearby sits a "sod" - a small grass turf. ...read more.

Middle

As before said, this allows the reader to associate with the persona, albeit vaguely. Boredom reinforced; 'played between us' suggests some crude game - these problems seem trivial and dull now. And they lost the more of their love on them - the games didn't do the relationship any good! Third Stanza Notes: Hardy recreates the moment at which the love died, and the relationship fully ended. To achieve this, he focuses on the partner's mouth. "The smile on your mouth was the deadest thing/ Alive enough to have strength to die;" The use of an oxymoronic superlative stresses the death of emotion between the pair, further emphasised by the enjambment used - it highlights both "the deadest thing" and "Alive enough", making such an image both stark and even more surprising. The image presented, as if the smile embodied the relationship, in one which is so close to death but has enough physical strength to complete the physical action of dying. An odd idea, but it works effectively. Note how the juxtaposition between life and death presents further contrast (when comparing poems, this becomes important!). Ad. [As a further distancing technique, observe how Hardy keeps only to sight; he uses the smile to fully embody the relationship.] However, Hardy does not end his onslaught of depression there: "And a grin of bitterness swept thereby/ Like an ominous bird a-wing." ...read more.

Conclusion

Indeed, along with the variation in terms, it gives the impression of a minimalist, mottled and monochrome image, like a half-remembered dream. Is there a willingness to forget it? Does the persona want to avoid further pain by remembering the image, thus has repressed it along with the associated emotions? (Freudian psychoanalyst in the room.) On the same plane of thought, but to reach a different a conclusion, consider this thesis: the memory has actually faded already, either due to Time or a willing repression. We are reading about a faded memory, as opposed to the persona writing down his VIVID memory in order to repress it himself. Like the First World War poets. Difficult concepts... I say this because the image obviously embodies the emotion, and the circular usage of these conjoined principles proves that the memory is haunting the persona. But if the memory is fading, as shown by all of the distancing techniques, then have the memories accompanying it faded along with it too? (So, dear Mr.) Conclusion. Two ideas. 1) In writing the poem and using the distancing techniques, the persona is neutralising the pain (right now, that is, given that literature is a verbal suspension of time) and is establishing 'neutral tones'. 2) The memory has already faded along with the pain. This is a mere statement of the fact. 'Neutral Tones' have been established. ...read more.

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