The Darkling Thrush by Thomas Hardy

Explain The Darkling Thrush as an attempt by the poet to search for meaning.

Thomas Hardy turned to writing poetry being accused of writing depressing and tragic novels. However, he continued in his sad strain even in his poetry, though at times he tried to mitigate his pessimism by referring to remote hopes.

The Darkling Thrush, by the very title, shows this dichotomy in his later poetry; both aspects of his art are visible there. The poem, through cleverly chosen powerful images, engenders in the reader such emotions like fear and pity and ends in a catharsis brought in by the bird’s song.

In the first stanza in which the poet describes where he is standing, we see a long list of words which all have a negative connotation: coppice gate (as if kept outside), spectre-grey (like a ghost), dregs (as if something has got over), desolate ( like lonely) weakening eyes (as if someone is too aged) broken lyres (like in disharmony) and finally scored the sky and haunted (two ghastly images). The poet is leaning on to a gate that keeps him out of a small forest on day in winter which is not warm enough for people to come out.

And Winter’s dregs made desolate

The weakening eye of day

The tangled bine-stems represent issues that cannot be sorted out but which confuse us all the same. The image of the broken lyre complements the idea of disharmony. However, these things don’t bother the people since they are fast asleep around their fireplace in the safety and comfort of their homes. Only the poet who has ventured out senses the problems of the times.

In the second stanza the poet goes even further in his tragic strain. He says that the land itself is a symbol of the Century’s hopeless nature. He personifies nature and says he (nature) is stretching out dead.

His crypt the cloudy canopy,

The wind its death-lament.

The poet is unenthusiastic and he sees this lack of fervour reflected all around him. Nothing is germinating or taking birth since it is still winter and every life has become passive and unenthusiastic.

The ancient pulse of germ and birth

Was shrunken hard and dry

The poem now takes a turn as the poet finds an element of happiness in nature. It is a thrush, sitting on a twig

At once a voice arose among

The bleak twigs overhead

The weak and aged thrush, lean and small with its plume ruffled by the wind has no reasons to be happy. But its sings a ‘full-hearted’ song

Of joy illimited

and he

Had chosen thus to fling his soul

Upon the growling gloom.

The poet fails to see any valid reason for such ‘ecstatic’ singing (‘carolings’). No cause of happiness was etched on the earthly things (terrestrial things). So, the poet thinks that ‘some blessed Hope’ has trembled through the good-night air to the bird’s mind. The poet confesses he is unaware of the source of this happiness.

Thus we see a poet comparing his awareness with the awareness of a happy bird and wondering what could be its source of happiness which he is quite unaware of. The poet is forever and ever trying to explore life in search of its meaning. The openness of the poet to new ideas and thought is evident here. This is why poets were called ‘seers’ in ancient days.

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