JOHN HUGHES W. King's 1925 comment, that Thomas Hardy's well-known 1867 poem, . "Neutral Tones," was distinguished by "a kind of acrid clarity in both thought and style,"1 led Claire Senior to reply that, nonetheless, "few readers today would praise Hardy for clarity."2 This exchange might suggest why "Neutral Tones" continues to be an intriguing poem, since it highlights a paradoxical sense that the poem's effectiveness derives from the expressive relation between the dismal, matter-of-fact aura of its mundane scene, and the contrary perception that there is much within and outside the poem, that is withheld, elided, obscure. The reading offered in this article is exercised, like that of many critics and biographers since King, by a sense of the complex generative ratio between what is clear and singular, though haunting about the poem, and all that is reticent, or enigmatic--about its speaker, its situation, and the young poet who wrote it. What this piece seeks primarily to do, though, is to approach the interlocking affective, subjective, and biographical dimensions of the poem through a close, sustained, examination of its meter. The main emphasis is on describing how the poem's distinctive modernity surfaces in its registration of disillusion,
Victorian Poetry – West Virginia University Press
Published: May 9, 2013
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