Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Neutral Tones Analysis

A Doleful Outlook Though Nothing to Fear
     What is alive enough to have the strength to die? Thomas Hardy's poem “Neutral Tones” was written in 1867 but not published until 1898, and the four four-line stanzas picture a very dull one indeed, as every shade of color is no longer vibrant and every tone has become neutral (NAEL 1932). In “Neutral Tones,” the speaker mourns a lost love, and the unfortunate part is that all life ends up looking very bleak and worthless. In fact, many of Hardy's pieces focused solely on the outlook that all humans are ruled by a fate of a perverse nature and that events of disaster and irony are usually coincidental (1915). “Neutral Tones” exemplifies this in that Hardy (1840 – 1928) writes of how life is chance and love is a gamble. Even for the speaker, love was so alive it had the choice to die, and fate chose the latter (1914).
     When poems mention nature and compare it to something dead, in this case ashes, I cringe, because God created his world to glorify himself and bless his people. When I read that leaves had come from ash and were lying upon the starving sod, I was slightly upset. The seasons were fashioned for a reason, and Winter is simply part of his grand plans. Hardy may have been alluding to the fact that his love was not destined to be forever and therefore had started from ash and then fell (in a neutral tone of gray) upon the sod, which is not a lovely element to rest on. In essence, the piece irritated me because the theme overflows with selfishness. The fact that he lost a love should not be an excuse to think that the world is bleak and God has cursed the sun.
     Some say I over analyze situations, which could be true, but I love thinking, and after thinking about “Neutral Tones,” I thought about ones I have lost. When I remembered beloved grandparents and other family members I have lost, I gave the speaker more sympathy. Moreover, I thought about some friendships I lost, friendships over which I did not have any control whatsoever, and I understood what Hardy meant by “words played between us to and fro.” Confidences and stories exchanged between the two were right and good at the time, but now everything was meaningless because the relationship was disintegrated. He did not convince me that fate was perverse and that everything is a coincidence, but I could understand the feeling of not having control over a situation where a relationship between friends completely dissolves. I do admit to others that I have never lost a “lover,” which means I cannot imagine the hurt because I haven't experienced it. However, the piece reminded me of people being parted from one another in a drastic and painful way, and I could relate to the image of feeling like a gray leaf upon a dead piece of sod starved by the sun.
     Techniques used by Hardy were mainly vivid word pictures of neutral tones. The speaker, near a pond in the middle of the Winter, is mourning his fate and lost love. Hardy employs very visual language, and when he mentioned leaves, I was confused. Usually trees shed their leaves well before the middle of Winter, and the snow falls, covering the earth with a beautiful blanket to hide the arid ground underneath. Not here: At this specific pond, Winter is at its dullest state, and the neutral tones provide the perfect place to have a party of self-pity. The sod starves, and God has cursed the sun (NAEL 1932). What could be added to make a more bleak picture? For the speaker, it seems he is trapped in this tone and phase in life, and he certainly is not making any great effort to escape the pattern of thoughts he finds himself pondering.
     Losing a friend or love is aching, but that does not mean that the speaker is justified in thinking all the world is bleak because of it. It is true people need time to grieve when they lose one they love, but to go to such an extent as to compare the smiles spent on one another before the loss to dead, swept bitterness with a bad prophecy, it is as if to say that any friendship or relationship is dangerous because it might cause hurt or even be taken away by hurt. Though depressing, I have thought of this poem often. I do not have to worry or fret about fate or relationships, because I have a higher authority who is in control, and my Heavenly Father only wants the best for me. Even though I once lost many family members and friendships in a short period of time, I learned that when and if this happens in the future, I will most certainly recall this piece, if only to remind myself that I need not worry about losing someone and having to live life in a colorless way, because I am actually never alone.
     Hardy did have a point: It hurts to lose. From his poem, however, I had the feeling the speaker had been standing at the pond under the white sun for an extended period of time, longer than necessary, and though he had probably grieved enough, the narrator was simply prolonging his session of selfish sorrow. Hardy expressed that fate was perverse, and the speaker simply could not move away from the designated pond, a place of self-pity. To both Hardy and the speaker, love and fate were both alive enough to decide to disappear at any whim despite the pain he would feel, and when they did, the speaker was left numb and aching, and all the words and smiles exchanged before the casualty were considered worthless. I was annoyed at the doleful outlook on life the speaker assumed, but I could relate to it, and Hardy's colorful language to describe a colorless life and situation is vivid, and I can now look back and recall a poem about neutral tones that shows me how much I have to be grateful for, because no matter how bleak the Winter may seem or how starved the sod may be, my higher authority holds me in his hand. If God promises I will not be burned walking through the fire, I have nothing to fear from a Wintry crisis.

Works Cited  
Greenblatt, Stephen. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 9th ed. Vol. F. New York: Norton, 2012. Print.

No comments:

Post a Comment