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Comparative analysis of ‘Neutral Tones’ and ‘Absence’

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The general theme in these two poems is the loss of love. The two poems have different outlooks on the subject, Hardy looks back on a meeting with his former partner in a depressed way while Jennings is trying to get over it. Hardy’s poem was written 1867 while Jennings was written roughly 100 years later. ‘Neutral Tones’ is written in 1st person, in the poem Hardy is talking to his former lover about their last meeting. Jennings poem ‘Absence’ is written in the same way. They do this so we can see what they would say to their ex-partner and we have an insight into each poet’s feelings.

Hardy uses pathetic fallacy for this poem, nature is in tune with his feelings, it is cold and bleak. It is also set in winter, winter is the season when things die and the love which Hardy shared with his partner has now died. The leaves are dead and they are a dark bleak colour, even the sun, which is supposed to give life, has no colour or vibrancy, he may see everything like this because our emotions colour everything we see and do. This shows us he is feeling the same way. In ‘Absence’ the place were their last meeting took place has not changed, this implies that her love has not changed either.

Jennings compares her crying to an ‘earthquake tremor’, this metaphor implies that she is shaking like an earthquake tremor so she must be crying uncontrollably and, like an earthquake, it will take a long time to get over. She also writes ‘your absence seem a savage force’, here Jennings is telling us that her loss of love is very painful. In ‘Neutral Tones’ we know that Hardy is talking about an ex-wife but Jennings does not tell us if the person in her poem is her lover or a family member, this makes the reader aware of the idea that loss of love is faceless and it can happen to anyone.

In ‘Neutral Tones’ Hardy writes, “your eyes on me were as eyes that rove/Over tedious riddles of years ago” these mean that Hardy’s partner isn’t looking in his eyes and she has spent a lot of time asking herself questions about him and she now realizes she doesn’t love him anymore. Hardy goes on to write, “some words played between us to and fro”. The words have no meaning and they can’t have a proper conversation together. He also calls her smile “the deadest thing” this shows us that it was a false and forced smile, which shows us that her love for him is gone.

Hardy uses alliteration to bring our attention to certain phrases, such as “wrings with wrong”. He wants us to know how badly this break up has affected him so he uses alliteration to get across that it painfully tortures him. ‘Neutral Tones’ has four verses with four lines in each, the 1st 3 verses are using flashback and are about the woman’s appearance and the setting. In the fourth verse he tells us how the break up has affected him now and how his feelings of that day still haunt him, he now has a cynical view of love. The last verse is very broken up, he creates a stop-start staccato effect.

Jennings uses three verses of five lines, she also includes end-rhyme. In verse 1 she describes the setting of the garden, in verse 2 she realizes that she is still sad and hasn’t got over her loss of love. The third verse shows how she really feels when she breaks down and starts to cry because the setting reminds her of the person she has lost. From the two poems I believe that Hardy’s “Neutral Tones” is more effective. I feel he uses better imagery and metaphors and gets his point across better, the scene he sets suits the poem better than Jennings.

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