The Poetry Place

Neutral Tones

A web search will bring up a range of interpretations of Hardy’s poem and I’ll try not to repeat them here.  Just a few points to think about:

The title - Neutral Tones – has been much written about and the effect of grey drabness is immediately clear to the reader.  However, the tone of the poem seems to me to be anything but neutral. The writer is bitter and his interpretation includes decidedly non-neutral language: ‘deadest’, ‘bitterness’, ‘ominous’, ‘deceives’, ‘wrong’. 

Persona. We assume the writer is male and we assume it is Hardy but perhaps both assumptions are wrong.  What if the writer is female – would that affect an interpretation of the poem?    

Hardy’s narrative is very sketchy.  Most of the details are emotional and tell us little about what actually happened either by the pond or about ‘the riddles of years ago’. Students could write what they think the ‘story’ might be from the point of view of a third person, perhaps a ‘neutral’ observer. For example, ‘I knew Edward and Beth and heard the story from both of them at different times. It seems that…’

In the accompanying worksheet, you will find some images which might illustrate the poem. In groups, students could decide how appropriate they are and perhaps search for others – or draw their own.  The discussion, though, is more important than the searching or the drawing! Tones illustrations.docx


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