Friday, January 2, 2009

A Poem for the New Year: Hardy's "The Darkling Thrush"

"The Darkling Thrush"
by Thomas Hardy

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 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 has never been accused of being a glass half-full type of author (anyone who has read Tess of the D'Urbervilles or Jude the Obscure would agree with me). Indeed, most of his works have a decidedly dark and fatalistic tone. While he once considered himself a meliorist, meaning that he believed that the world was slowly changing for the better, events such as World War I caused him to eventually abandon this hope.

However, "The Darkling Thrush" offers a considerably more hopeful Hardy than his other works suggests. Although this relatively optimistic mood did not stay with Hardy, it is nice to think of him getting some solace, however brief, during the last evening of the 19th century. Enjoy the poem and be certain to read Robert Pinsky's interesting commentary on the poem at