Nature is the pre-dominant source of theme and techniques in poetry in society. We see evidence of this within the works on Thomas Hardy. Nature is an important aspect of Hardy’s work. He uses nature in order to set the atmosphere of the poem, and uses external elements to mirror the internal emotions of the protagonist. Nature acts as a tool for Hardy to enhance imagination and reflect events and emotions. Nature also provides the poet with inspiration. Using nature to symbolize is one technique poets use in order to convey an idea or message that the poet wants to underline and express. In Thomas Hardy’s poems ‘Neutral Tones’, ‘The Moth Signal’ and ‘The Darkling Thrush’ we see nature being used to portray these.
The poem ‘Neutral Tones’ was written in 1867 which is part of Hardy’s collection of Wessex Poems and Other Verses. The poem is about the end of a relationship, and presents the protagonist’s emotions through the visual imagery and nature. The protagonist displays deep emotions which ironically contrast the feel and first impressions the title gives; ‘Neutral Tones’ uses neutral colours such as black, gray, and white in order to help the reader visualise the events in the poem; these colours also set the mood that the poet is trying to portray. In the first verse the atmosphere is set, the first line “We stood by the pond that winter day…” gives an atmosphere of tranquillity and peace; Hardy conveys this by using words that do not have a harsh sound. Winter also is used to compare the relationship; cold and bitter. Winter is also associated with the end of the cycle of seasons further mirroring the end of the relationship “cycle”. The protagonist describes the sun as white, normally the sun would be described as yellow but in keeping with the neutral tone of the poem it is white; also the colour yellow is usually associated with joy and life by using the colour white the persona takes an element that which is normally pleasant and filled with life and makes it mirror the relationship and emotions.
The words “starving sod” emphasises the death and decay of nature and the relationship. The alliteration also emphasises this as the‘s’ sound is harsh. In the second verse, the protagonist is trying to interpret the look he is getting from the female protagonist. He believes that she is watching him and thinking of what has happened and how they got where they are now; reflecting on their relationship and what they once had. Hardy then uses oxymoron and turns the gesture of a smile, which is usually associated with the emotion of happiness, and twists it and makes it negative. The fourth stanza reflects the protagonist’s frustration, anger, and hurt; however this is done without breaking the neutral tone of the poem. The narrator begins using phrases like “love deceives” showing that internal pain is still present.
The protagonist goes on to say that he was “shaped” by the “wrings with wrong”, which shows how much mental pain he has been through and that he has learnt from the relationship. Instead of referring to the sun as “white”, he now refers to it as the “God-curst sun”, showing that the protagonist’s emotions and attitude has changed from the previous stanzas. The final line “And a pond edged with greyish leaves” brings us back to the beginning of the poem; almost like it is a continuous cycle.
Just like in Neutral Tones, ‘The Moth Signal’ is also about a dying relationship. The relationship in this poem is personified in the form of a moth burning in a flame. The poem the ‘Moth Signal’ mirrors the events within Thomas Hardy’s personal relationship between his wife and him. The poem is conversational as they are both discussing their relationship. Emma (Hardy’s 1st wife) is watching the moth, which unfortunately was attracted to the flame only to meet its end by burning in the thing that once attracted it so much. This is symbolic and mirrors the relationship they had. The female protagonist (Emma) is also compared to the moth; foreshadowing that death was coming for her.
In the poem ‘The Darkling Thrush’ (1900), the protagonist is contemplating about life and is watching out at the landscape from his gate. The word ‘frost’ is given a capital ‘F’, which personifies the word and gives it human-like characteristics. Hardy does the same by comparing the setting sun to a “weakening eye”. The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
Like strings of broken lyres
These lines outline and highlight the confusion in the world at the moment. The landscape becomes a burial ground for the century and the sky a grave. Death and decay is present within the land. Hardy is beginning to see the real shape and outline of what has happened, and believes everyone was as passionless as he was as a result. Suddenly, a thrush begins to sing, shattering the protagonist’s thought process. The protagonist is confused by such events and almost seems jealous of the bird. The protagonist understands that the bird despite being frail, old and small has hope, which he can sense but is almost ignorant of.
In conclusion, nature has a large role to play within poetry. It helps present the theme which the poet wants to express, it presents and reflects the internal emotions of a character, it can be used to symbolise other events and set the atmosphere.