Thomas Hardy’s poetry often has some gorgeous images in it, and I certainly feel at the moment that, with ice on my car in the mornings in March, we are experiencing the “dregs of winter”! In the first stanza here there’s plenty to feel sad about – the broken lyres, haunting of mankind, the scored sky. Yet then, through it all, comes the song of the thrush singing its “full hearted evensong / of joy illimited”. I love the line that the thrush “chose to fling his soul / upon the growing gloom” – the idea that no matter how dark it is, and even when the darkness seems to be increasing, this tiny thrush is singing his old heart out into the darkness because he knows, somehow, that spring will come again, Even though Hardy ends with the slightly doubtful thought that he “was unaware” of the Hope which caused the thrush’s song, he knows that there IS hope, because of this bird’s song.
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 me
The Century’s corpse outleant,
Its crypt the cloudy canopy,
The wind its death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
Seemed fervorless 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,
With 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.