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Saturday, January 1, 2011

Number 25: Thomas Hardy "The Darkling Thrush"

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.

--Thomas Hardy

Hap Notes: Thomas Hardy again, already? Yes. It just seemed like such a good poem for the new year ahead. In spite of the alarming changes to our planet the birds carry on and still sing for whatever reasons they have. I encourage us all to do likewise. Happy New Year!

A few cursory notes- Coppicing- as in the "coppice gate" is when trees are cut short so that they will regrow with new shoots. It was traditionally done in England to provide more firewood and wood resources. When the coppice is working, it will be surrounded by tall shoots and "tangled bine stems." The original tree, by the way, will never die of old age this way; the word coppice here indicates a small growth of trees that have come up like a small slender forest. So there's meaning in the coppice gate here in the poem- see picture above. Whether it is a gate made of coppice or the coppice itself (to the right in the above picture), next to a gate.

The humans in the poem who "haunt" the deathly area, have sensibly gone home to sit in front of a warm fire. Only the poet remains in the winter gloom and hears the thrush (also pictured above.) He doesn't give us a big thrush, he gives us an old, frail, gaunt, small, wind-blasted one; a thrush who would seemingly have no reason to sing at all. It's interesting to note that he says "all mankind" who, unfortunately, since they went inside for creature comfort, cannot hear the thrush's "happy" song. Thrush song is reputed to be one of the most beautiful by people who rate such things and thrushes usually sing at sunset (most birds do) like the one in the poem.

Hardy may have some bitter thoughts about fate, life, people and the nature of the universe, saying, in the poem, that the day felt as though the world was a corpse in a coffin with its bleak features and gray skies but he cannot fool us with this cynicism. He hears the "ecstatic sound" of a bird's "happy good-night air." Now a bitter man would never describe a bird's song as either happy or an "air"- an old world word for a "tune." Ah, and doesn't this bird's song bring a breath of fresh oxygen (air) to the scene? Even if the trees look like the broken strings of lyres, a song still comes out of the gloom.

We will keep Hardy's little secret: he loves the earth and has a wild hope for it in spite of his grousing.

To refresh your memory on what we've already said about Hardy, and to find a link to more Hardy visit here:

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