Neutral Tones by Hardy

The poem ‘Neutral Tones‘ belongs to the group of ‘love poems‘ of Hardy. It is composed in the year 1867. It depicts the separation of lovers. It is about Hardy‘s love relations with his cousin Tryphena Sparks before he fell in love with Emma Gifford in 1870, his beloved who later on became his wife.

The poem opens with the memory of the quarrel of the lovers. The poet and his beloved are separated from each other. They have quarrelled with each other and the poet remembers the spot where they had quarrelled. He remembers the pond nearby which they had stood up. He also remembers that it was the winter season. During the season the white sun, the dry grass, the dry leaves, etc. had made the surrounding nervous and frustrated.

Neutral Tones : Summary and Questions 1

In the second stanza, he says that the beloved was watching her lover with a sense of detachment and separation. There were very few dialogues exchanged between them. Both of them were very nervous and the talk between them could no more continue their love affair.

In the third stanza, the poet points out that the beloved was not happy with the poet at all. Her unhappy and sorrowful life reflected it. She had felt a sort of aversion for him.
In the last stanza, the poet experiences his setback in his love-affair. He finds that he is no happier after his separation from her. He feels his isolation from his beloved too strongly. The memory of the grey leaves, her unhappy face, the God curst-sun and the pale tree develop his sense of frustration and nervousness at the end of the poem. No doubt, the poem is a vivid reminiscence of the quarrel of the lovers.

Critical Appreciation
The poem ‘Neutral Tones‘ is a famous love lyric of Hardy. Hardy is recognized as one of the major love poets. His first achievement lies in his love poems. In the words of a famous critic Mr H.C.Duffin “The keynote of his whole poetry is to be found in the love poems”. Hardy‘s love poetry is divided into two types: The personal and the non-personal or dramatic. The personal love poems are divided further into three phases- Poems before the death of Emma Lavinia, poems of 1912-13 and later poems.

In the poem ‘Neutral Tones’ the poet describes his pain of loss caused to him due to his separation from his beloved, Tryphena Sparks. Before getting married to his first wife, Hardy had fallen in love with his cousin. Tryphena. They had a deep love for each other. However, one day a quarrel took place between them and both of them got separated from each other. In this poem, the poet expresses his mood of frustration and nervousness after his separation. He feels a sense of loneliness. The love between the lovers is turned into hatred due to separation. The poet’s separation from his beloved arouses a sense of pain and tragedy in his mind.

The main cause of the separation of the lovers is a quarrel between them. In this poem, the poet tries to remember the painful situation of the quarrel that led him away from his beloved. He remembers well that at the time of his separation from his beloved Nature was not in a good and healthy condition. It was the winter season. The trees had shed away their leaves. The grass was lifeless and pale. The sun was white.

The grey colour of the landscape suggested that every aspect of Nature was in a gloomy and unhappy mood. The whole scenario of Nature appeared to be more lifeless and passive. It was a horrible experience of Nature for the poet. The landscape was as good as the frustrated mood of the lovers.
The beloved of the poet appeared to be in a more quarrelsome and painful mood. She was seen to be quarrelling with her lover as if there were some serious disputes between them. The hot exchange of words between them made them forget their love for each other easily. The following lines state their point of separation :

“Your eyes on me were as eyes that rove Over tedious riddles of years ago.”

Ahead to this, the poet found that the face of his beloved was not charming. He found the smile on her face to be deadly, passive and neutral. While going away from her he had a bittersome experience. He found her as hateful as a bird of ill omens.

In the last stanza, the poet gives his experience of pain and loneliness through which he has been passing since his separation. He is totally frustrated now and he feels no interest in life at all. His mind is full of sorrow and nervousness. He feels intensely the agony in the separation. He thinks that he has been totally deceived by his beloved. He remembers vividly the neutral face, the cursed sun, the grey trees, the grass and the pond which contributed once to his present state of loneliness and misery.

In short, the poem ‘Neutral Tones‘ is remarkable for the depiction of scene of the frustration of the lover after his separation from her.

Check your progress
A. Complete the following sentences by choosing the correct alternative :
1. The poem Neutral Tones is a ……….. poem.
1. war 2. love 3. Nature 4. none of these.
2. The lovers are……… with each other.
1. happy 2. frustrated 3. whispering 4. none of these.
3. The lover in the poem is in……… mood.
1. jolly 2. exalted 3. nervous 4. angry.
4. The hatred of the beloved is compared to……….
1. A happily singing bird.
2. A good bird
3. An ominous bird
4. A crying child.


1- 2
2 – 2
3 – 3
4 – 3

B. Answer the following questions in one word/sentence each :
1. In what mood Nature was when the lovers quarrelled with each other?
Ans: It was in unhappy and frustrated mood.
2. Where had the lovers stood up?
Ans: The lovers had stood up near the pond.
3. How did the beloved look at the poet, while they were separating from each other?
Ans: The beloved looked angrily at the poet, while they were separating from each other.
4. How is the mood of the poet now?

Ans: The mood of the poet is nervous and unhappy.
5. Does the poet feel a sense of isolation?
Ans: Yes, the poet feels a sense of isolation.


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