Hardy wrote The Darkling Thrush on New Year’s Eve, 1900. With the old century – and many of its certainties – at an end, the poem is an eloquent metaphor for Hardy’s anxieties about the new era that was dawning. The poem’s narrator pauses at the edge of a wood at the end of a bleak December day. To him, the desolate landscape seems like the dead century’s body, laid out under the vault of lowering skies. The narrator feels his isolation intensely, very aware that he is sole human being in this winter landscape:
“… all mankind that haunted nigh
Had sought their household fires.”
Then, unexpectedly, a bird sings. The narrator focuses with wonder on the bird and its unconcernedly lovely song. In this, Hardy suggests, there is cause for hope. As we head into the new decade, I wonder whether the natural world still offers us a song of hope. Would Hardy, were he writing today choose to end the poem differently? See what you think. I look forward to your comments and reactions.
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 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.
31 December 1900
The next post from me will be in the first week of January, so let me offer my very best wishes for Christmas and the New Year!