The context in which a poem was written can sometimes tell you more about its themes, message and meaning.

Some questions you might ask include:

  • are aspects of the poet’s life reflected in the poem?
  • is the time or place in which it was written reflected in the poem?

You will need to research the poet’s background to discover answers to these questions. But if you do write about a poem and its context, be careful to include only details that reveal something about the poem.

Context of 'Neutral Tones'

A winter field with two people in the distance
Thomas Hardy faced many disappointments in his personal relationships, but it is unclear if this poem is about a specific one

Famous for the pessimistic tone in his writing, Thomas Hardy was both a novelist and a poet. In the latter part of his life he tended to concentrate on poetry writing rather than prose but all his works have a poetic quality to them.

Hardy faced many disappointments in his personal relationships (and would go on to face even more after Neutral Tones was written and published). It is unclear whether this poem refers to a specific relationship he had or whether it is a more generalised feeling about his associations with women.

Neutral Tones was written in 1867 but not published until over twenty years later in the collection Wessex Poems. This lends an even greater degree of distance to the incident that is recalled but also adds importance to the theme of memory which the poem is built around.

More about commenting on context.