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Tuesday 4 February 2014

Thomas Hardy: Neutral Tones


Suspension: photo by efo, 29 January 2014

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.

Thomas Hardy (1840-1928): Neutral Tones, 1867, in Wessex Poems and Other Verses, 1898

crosses / marking absences (morning, Munroe Falls Metro Park, Summit County, Ohio): photo by wood_owl, 11 January 2014

today the snow (edge of Heron Pond, Munroe Falls Metro Park, Summit County, Ohio): photo by wood_owl, 26 January 2014

Abandoned orchard, Ward Hill, Andover, Massachusetts: photo by Jim Rohan (LowerDarnley), 28 January  2014

Twister (contrail, Middlesex Fells, Stoneham, Massachusetts): photo by Jim Rohan (LowerDarnley), 2 February 2014


Be the BQE said...

"Alive enough to have strength to die"--I've been haunted by that line since I first read the poem some 30 years ago. This poem seems perfectly poised between internal and external. It still crushes. Lovely post.

TC said...

Thanks very much, David. The picture selection was meant to match the external with the internal, much as the poem does.

And to think -- he was yet young!

ACravan said...

Calling Hardy's poem masterful seems like such an understatement. I also was struck by his relative youth at the time he wrote this. I think the title Neutral Tones is extraordinary and something that is so subtly played. I didn't know "chidden," which along with "God curst" makes me see this winter's sun differently. The final Twister photo captures and symbolizes for me the way everything has been looking and feeling where we live since November. It is elementally cold. The snow, ice, tree damage and debris are making things very difficult. Curtis

Nin Andrews said...

Yes, I used to think of Hardy primarily as a novelist, having gone on a binge and read all of them at once in college. But his poetry matches his fiction--I have learned by reading your blog.

Barry Taylor said...

I'm so enjoying this last couple of Hardy posts, Tom. How do you do justice to a line like that stumbling, prosaic

'They had fallen from an ash, and were gray.'?

Wow - virtuoso handling of line length and metre to wrenching emotional effect. You savour the craft, even as it's quietly doing your head in.

TC said...

'They had fallen from an ash, and were gray.'

It almost seems the lines that follow attempt a kind of narrative demonstration of all that's associated with ash and gray, in the mind and in that larger mind the world.

The whole long disappointment.

Hardy's God may chide and curse the sun, but takes very little interest in the human playthings in this cold cosmic game of chance.

That first marriage proving so desolate, and then the lamenting in the poems of later years for all that had been missed, gone unnoticed as do all events of personal consequence in this life, in Hardy's world.

-K- said...

Wonderful selection of photos,as always.

TC said...

Many thanks Kevin, that means a lot coming from a man with a very fine eye.