Word cloud of keywords and phrases from the poem Neutral Tones

Interpreting and analysing a poem is not necessarily a matter of finding the right answer.

Poems are complex creations and are open to many different interpretations. Your interpretation is as valid as anyone else's - as long as you can back it up with suitable evidence from the text.

Remember to avoid simply identifying what techniques or approaches poets use. Aim to show an understanding of how form, language and structure create meanings and effects.

Below are some differing interpretations of the poem. How would you interpret the poem?


Interpretation of the whole poem

InterpretationReason for interpretation
The speaker does not reach a conclusion about who is to blame for the end of the relationship and remains neutral.The speaker is faithful to the title and does not pass comment on who is to blame. They simply describe the detail of the scene.
The speaker blames the other person for the end of the relationship.‘The smile on your mouth was the deadest thing’ shows how the speaker thinks their ex-partner managed to turn something pleasant into something less so.

Interpretation of the line: 'Your eyes on me'

Infographic showing two different interpretations of a line of poetry - one loving, one suspicious
InterpretationReason for interpretation
The speaker feels they were once the loving centre of their ex-partner’s attention.‘Eyes’ are a conventional symbol used in love poetry. The speaker is thinking back to a happier time.
The speaker feels that their ex-partner was looking at them with something like cold suspicion.The speaker uses the word ‘on’ which has a slightly sinister tone. A reader would usually expect a word like gazed, which would suggest a romantic moment.

Interpretation of the last stanza

InterpretationReason for interpretation
This is as neutral in tone as the rest of the poem.The speaker does not comment on who is to blame but instead describes the scene by the pond, listing the details.
The tone here is slightly different from the rest and suggests a degree of regret under the surface.Some of the vocabulary used, especially ‘keen’, ‘deceives’, ‘wrings’ and ‘God-curst’, suggests a more intense response than the previous stanzas.