The Darkling Thrush

National Poetry MonthWritten on the eve of the 20th century, The Darkling Thrush, by Thomas Hardy, is as relevant now as it was at the end of the 19th century — perhaps even more so given the current sad state of world affairs and the fact that we’re laying the foundations for not just a new century this time but a whole new millennium.

It’s an interesting view we have here. Hardy is looking forward from the leading edge of the 20th century while we’re looking back from the trailing edge where we can see both the good and the horrific of the past 100 years.

Hardy looks forward with a sort of hopeless resignation — a sort of wishful yearning that the thrush’s song might indicate that day still follows night. But a wish overwhelmed by despondency. And from where we stand now, we can see that we’ve suffered economic depression, world wars, famines, floods, and civil unrest the world over. So perhaps he was right to despair. And yet we survive…

By turning around 180 degrees to look forward into the new century and the new millennium, I see the same landscape that Hardy saw more than 100 years ago. And that thrush’s evensong sure seems a long way off when I can hear it at all through the maddening din 21st century life…

What about you? Can you hear it’s song?

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.

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