Gadget by The Blog Doctor.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Darkling Thrush

The Darkling Thrush
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

As noted in this analysis, "The most significant aspect of Thomas Hardy's brooding poem is the date and time of its composition". The poem is dated 31 December 1900, the last day of the 19th century. That the poem is referring to the end of the old century and the opening of the new one is indicated by the lines:

The land’s sharp features seemed to be
The Century’s corpse outleant,

The first two stanzas are uniformly bleak, with Hardy leaning (wearily ?) on a gate leading to a dark forest, surveying the cold, frosty, spectre-gray, desolate surroundings, as the late afternoon leads to evening.

The last two stanzas describe the joyful singing (caroling)of an old thrush, (aged ... frail, gaunt, and small).

The last two stanzas could be interpreted as Hardy's optomistic hopes for the new century. If so the hope was to be dashed 14 years later as Owen's Dulce et Decorum Est makes amply clear.

A more likely interpretation is that the pessimism remains as Hardy wonders why a bird should be singing its heart out when there is nothing in sight but gloom and misery.

The title of the poem reminds me of two lines from Matthew Arnold's seminal poem Dover Beach

And we are hear as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alrams of struggle and flight

Another link to Arnold's poem is the likely source of Hardy's pessimism. Unlike the modern New Athiests, both Arnold and Hardy realised that the retreat from religious belief, no matter how necessary for intellectual reasons, entailed also a serious loss of certainty, security and hope.

As Arnold explained it:

The sea of faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled;
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar ...

Timothy Takach set the Darkling Thrush to music ...


The Guardian's Poem of the Week

Cindy Shanks at Helium.com

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