While unrequited love is typically viewed as among the most torturous emotions one can imagine, when compared to experiencing the decay of a once fulfilled, true love, the ever-longing heart may have its merits. Thomas Hardy's Neutral Tones attests to the misery of love gone sour, painting a painful scene of the death rattle of a once vital, loving relationship. In When You Are Old, William Butler Yeats portrays another form of failed union in a regretful lament of unfulfilled, unrequited love. Both poems use similarly conventional structures to convey their somewhat universal, tragic themes, and both poems examine their loves through dreamlike recollections. In addition, the poems each employ bleak, colorless imagery to create a world where a personified Love has caused the dejection of their narrators. However, the romantic failures of the narrators result in differing attitudes concerning love. Betrayed by reality, the narrator of Neutral Tones projects a deeply cynical view of love, while the narrator of When You Are Old, uncorrupted by experience, maintains an ideal vision of the love that would have been had his feelings been reciprocated.
[...] Since undergoing “keen lessons that love deceives, / And wrings with wrong,” the signs of the impending demise of their relationship populate his memory of that winter day (Hardy, lines 13-14). Yeats' narrator, to whom I will subsequently refer as Yeats, describes not his own dream of the past, but a recollection he wishes for his the object of his affection, presumably Maud Gonne, to experience in her old age. Both visions recreate the faces of the narrators' loved ones, although the effects differ drastically. [...]
[...] Consequently, his view of love is as cynical as the conversation between his lover and him in his memory in which “some words played between [them] to and fro / On which lost the more by [their] (Hardy 7-8). He has accepted the triumph of fate over his desires. Conversely, Yeats dissatisfaction comes from the belief that his life could have turned out differently. He is dejected because Maud Gonne and he never were united, and he wants her to be sad with him for what never happened. [...]
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