Neutral Tones
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Thomas Hardy (1840-1928)

A beautifully crafted poem, the tones may be neutral but the emotions are black and bitter. In the short space of sixteen lines of verse a scene of of love's desolation by the edge of a pond is deftly and expertly shaped before our eyes. His use of visual imagery is so evocative that as I read the poem the scene immediately takes shape in my imagination. An opening scene from a film, perhaps one directed by David Lean.




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 solved 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.