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.

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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