The Darkling Thrush – Thomas Hardy – Analysis

The Darkling Thrush

I leant upon a coppice gate
When Frost was spectre-grey,
And Winter’s dregs made desolate
The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
Had sought their household fires.

The land’s sharp features seemed to be
The Century’s corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
Seemed fervourless as I.

At once a voice arose among
The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt and small,
In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
Upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings
Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
And I was unaware.

Thomas Hardy (1840 – 1928)

Darkling – meaning ‘in the dark’ has a certain musicality when spoken like the call of a bird.
Coppice – dense area of small trees
Spectre-grey – ghostly grey
Dregs – waste particles at the bottom of a liquid, last remaining particles
Lyre – plucked string instrument associated with ancient Greece

S1 … of course it is northern hemisphere winter… and it is a pretty dark dismal affaire … the ‘dregs’ of winter coupled with the weakening eye of pallid sunless days. Dregs conjures up many images of the winter landscape but the end of December is hardly the end of winter although the solstice has passed. Tree branches are tangled and broken against the winter sky like the strings of a broken musical instrument.

S2 … The landscape becomes likened to a dead body (corpse) with coffin not quite closed … and the pulse of germ and birth not heard … nice choice of germ for seed for it has negative connotations … the death life spirit matches the mood of the poet … a somewhat depressive mood. (fervourless = lacking in any energy)

S3 … But then the sound of a thrush is heard against the bleak winter gloom … a full-hearted evensong … with joy (illimited = unlimited) … from a bird aged, gaunt, frail and small … an evensong coming from the most unlikely of birds … not the greatest specimen – mirroring something of beauty coming from the bleak winter (be-ruffled = fluffing out)

S4 … There is nothing to be cheerful about … so little cause for carolling … it is near Christmas … but that is not the perspective from the bird’s point of view … perhaps the bird and nature know better … hope springs eternal.

The theme is the somewhat dark reflection on the closing century for it was written at the end of December 1900. It is certainly an appropriate poem for the end of this decade when it is easy to get hooked by dark happenings. And especially the havoc caused across the world by weather extremes.

However, there is hope … and in the bleakest of times there is always some element of contrast to give joy … some little ray of sunshine, or tiny spark … hopefully something to take you out of depression … to catch your attention away from your troubles … something to look forward to in the New Year, to give hope … in Australia we are taking more than a tiny spark into the New Year!

Happy New Year!

Thomas Hardy on Wikipedia

a related poem on the not-going-away environment concern

… relentless, unprecedented bushfires in Australia this summer, New Year fireworks have been cancelled in Canberra … and it is a very smoky capital today.