ISC English poem –The Darkling Thrush by Thomas Hardy
The Darkling Thrush
by Thomas Hardy
About THE AUTHR … Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) was born in a not so well-to-do family. His father worked as a stone mason. His mother, however, was a gifted woman who took charge of Hardy’s education from the beginning. Hardy’s parents lacked the means to send him to university, so he was made to work as an apprentice with an architect. Hardy flourished in this field and, in due course, earned a name as an architect of repute. His heart, however, lay in literature. In later years, he devoted his time wholly to writing. He wrote poems, short stories and novels.
Reading Hardy must include his novels like ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’, ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge’, and ‘The Return of the Native’. Among his poems, one might choose ‘Poems of Past and Present’, and ‘Moments of Vision’. In short story writing too, he excelled winning the admiration of countless readers. ‘A Tragedy of Two Ambitions’, ‘A Mere Interlude’ and ‘Alicia’s Diary’ are just a few of the long list of Hardy’s short stories.
The poem ..
Hardy wrote this poem in 1900. It was the end of twentieth century. By then he has 60, and the old age was beginning to ravage him. Life expectancy in England was around 40 then. Was it his old age, or the depressing social conditions of England that bothered him? Perhaps, both. Hardy was ill at ease with the class-ridden, tradition-trapped Victorian age. He was born in a humble family, and his modest upbringing made him rail against the power and privileges of the elite class. The deeply-entrenched moral values stifled free thinking, and filled the average person’s life with needless misery. Hardy loathed such an archaic set up, but he could do nothing to reverse it, other than venting his desperation through his writings. The Darkling Thrush, perhaps, bears the marks of Hardy’s anguish and pessimism.
Stanza 1 …
I leant upon a coppice gate
When Frost was spectre-grey,
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.
Meaning … The insufferable winter is drawing near. There is snow everywhere. Life on earth is grinding to a halt. The landscape looks so lifeless, so ghoulish. The speaker leans over a gate that stood amidst shrubs and plants. His eyes fall on the tree that stands bereft of its foliage. The winter’s chill has stripped the tree of its leaves. Only the twigs and stems are left to peer skywards. They look like a derelict musical string instrument, whose strings are cut. Folks have retreated to their homes to escape the biting cold outside. Daily activities have been cut to the minimum in such a forbiding environment.
Stanza 2 …
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.
Meaning .. The whole place looks so devoid of any activity. There is no hustle bustle, no exuberance, and nothing to cheer for. The town’s mortuary stands silent and alone. A dark cloud hovers over it to further accentuate the gloom and doom feeling. The wind blows with a deadly howl. There is no birth, no regeneration and no revival. Life seems to be trapped in an ice age. The speaker’s mood, like that of every other denizen, appears so insipid and lackluster.
Stanza 3 …
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.
Meaning ….Amidst this deafening silence and graveyard-like doom and despondency, the speaker hears a strange loud sound emanating from the background of the dry lifeless twigs and stems of the nearby tree. It catches the speaker by surprise. The strange sound seems to announce that hope and health is returning. The speaker discovers that an old, enfeebled thrush with frayed plumes is crying out. But, the intent of the thrush in making the cry, when all life forms are on the verge of eternal silence, baffles the speaker. ‘What could be the bird’s motivation?, wonders the speaker.
Stanza 4 …
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.
Meaning … The thrush’s energetic cry obviously was not announcing the advent of cataclysm and death. ‘Then, what was it?,’ ponders the speaker. He concludes that the thrush perhaps knew that everything in this world was not doomed yet, and there was still hope. May be, good times would soon return, but the speaker was unaware of any such good tidings.