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.

Dates attached to Hardy's poems are the dates of composition, whenever these can be documented. In this case, composition is dated to 1867. The poem was apparently written at 16 Westbourne Park Villas, London. First published in Wessex Poems and Other Verses (London: Macmillan, Sept. 1898). Checked against The Works of Thomas Hardy (Ware, Hertfordshire: Wordsworth, 1994), p. 9 [PVA].


The title of this fine early poem by Hardy refers to the neutral "tone" (mood, shade, colour) of the sentiments he is expressing, and of the scene he is describing. With remarkable skill, he fuses his feeling of disappointment over lost love with the desolation in nature. The opening stanza sets the scene at the end of the year, winter, and the emphasis is on decay and death — the loss of earth’s greenery ("the starving sod") and the fall of leaves from an ash-tree. In the next two stanzas, the poet describes the loss of love in his beloved whose eyes are no longer full of devotion, whose smile has now become "the deadest thing" that could possibly die, and whose passionate attachment has generally given way to bitterness. The last stanza presents the theme of a sense of loss both in life and the natural world, as the poet is filled with a profound feeling of sadness over what time and experience have taught him — that just as things in nature decay inevitably, human love cannot last forever. Thus the poet expresses the pervading sadness of life — human as well as natural — in a world that seems to be presided over not by a benevolent but by a cursing God.

Yet there may be something positive here. The human and natural world are, after all, distinct from each other. As Richard Hoffpauir writes, the poet "will not deny that nature can symbolically reflect human moods, but his point is ironic, for nature is essentially neutral, unsympathetic to human goings on, subject in its intractable cycles to deprivation" (204). The lovers, however, in a result denied to nature, can learn something from difficult experiences. They can acquire wisdom from the sufferings they undergo. In this way, Hardy hints, albeit wryly, at the human capacity for resilience. — A. Banerjee

Related Material


Hoffpauir, Richard. "Yeats or Hardy?" In An Historical Evaluation of Thomas Hardy's Poetry. Ed. A. Banerjee. Lewiston: Edwin Mellen, 2000. 198-220.

Created 17 August 2007

Last modified (commentary added) 4 May 2024