Thoughts on Poems – ‘The Darkling Thrush’

I leant upon a coppice gate,
When Frost was spectre-gray,
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 me
The Century’s corpse outleant,
Its crypt the cloudy canopy,
The wind its death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
Seemed fervorless 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,
With 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

It’s incredible how Hardy keeps this poem so gloomy and, at times, bleak. Even when there are glimmers of light in the first and last two stanzas, he pulls it back down with an evocative use of adverbs that cleverly illustrate the protagonist’s unwavering depression. Depression is a strong word, maybe ‘the blues’ would be better suited here. I kind of laughed a bit. All these wonderful things in life pop up for him and he just shuts them down. The lens over the protagonist’s eyes definitely has a dark-comedy to it, but only for us, the readers. I wonder if the author felt the same…

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