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Featured Poem: Neutral Tones by Thomas Hardy

Written by Rachael Norris, 17th February 2020

This week's Featured Poem is Neutral Tones by Thomas Hardy, chosen by The Reader's Learning and Quality Leader, Amanda Boston.

 

I love this poem. Yes, it is melancholy, yes it speaks of the death of love but it is so searingly honest – everything stripped back and stripped bare. I feel like all my nerve endings are exposed. What makes this happen?  Something about the setting certainly. It reminds me of a bleached out photograph as though all colour has gone; all life gone.

We stood by the pond that winter day

And the sun was white, as though chidden of God.

Chidden (I look it up) it means scolded/rebuked. I am interested in the sound of the word as well as its meaning. It really stands out when read aloud. Feels hard in the mouth and it breaks into those insistent monosyllables that grind us down. That white sun, feels impossible that it will ever give warmth and life again. How terrible would that be? Would it  be like being God-curst as in the final verse? Doomed never to feel love again.

All the clues are there why this relationship didn’t work. We are witness in real time to the games. What are those “tedious riddles of years ago”? Like a puzzle, playing games with each other but with no apparent joy. Why tedious? Makes me think of being worn down, exhausted or bored.

 And some words played between us to and fro

On which lost the more by our love.

These lines are like a riddle.  It’s really tricky to make sense of the contradictions. Read aloud you can feel the struggle going on: the tensions between lost and more.

How would you feel caught in this tension? Would you have any regrets?

And so to the final verse. It feels full of pain still: keen lessons and wrings with wrong love the sound of this(like being punished again? Makes me think of wringing hands)

I want to take some hope from the possibility of learning lessons but I am not sure.

At least we are left with this wonderful poem to enjoy and think about.

Neutral Tones

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.
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.

by Thomas Hardy

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