A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Saturday, 14 June 2014

The Darkling Thrush (14)

Back to birdsong, and I know that this poem by Thomas Hardy is a favourite with several of my blog readers. Does any other poem describe so beautifully and so movingly the triumph of hope over despair? There seems no good reason for the thrush's song: it's winter out there, it's frosty, it's bleak, the earth is 'shrunken' and 'hard'. Except for the dispirited narrator of the poem, everyone is indoors, trying to get meagre comfort at the fireside hearth. Then, suddenly, unexpectedly, that 'full-hearted' voice, singing of 'joy illimited' — unreasoning, almost irrational, counteracting the deathly gloom, singing despite everything. And the singer, pointedly, is 'aged' (wise, experienced), 'frail, gaunt and small' (everything's against him: his age, his size, his health) and 'in blast-beruffled plume' (beset by the ravages of nature). And yet, in the face of almost overwhelming odds and opposition, the thrush sings. 'So little cause for carolings'!  Yet there is song — joyful, redemptive, transcendent. The thrush has some positive response, some hopeful answer, which may have eluded the narrator, the poet and the reader; but, by giving it freely and naturally, the thrush transmits that hope to all of us.     

The Darkling Thrush

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.

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.


Beauty may be found in the least likely of places and circumstances.


sackerson said...

Thanks for sharing that. When I come across Hardy, I remember how much I enjoy his poetry. I should read more.

I first discovered him when we were "doing" one of his novels at school. I immediately thought, why can't we study this bloke's poetry instead of his prose?

Bonnie said...

What a glorious thought - "... to fling (one's) soul ... at blessed Hope ..."!

ds said...

I love this one. Thanks for sharing it. Hardy is a treasure.

Angela said...

Oh. My favourite poem...!

George said...

To have "some blessed Hope" that will permit us to fling our souls "upon the growing gloom" is a great way to live. Let us hope that we can rise to the challenge of the darkling thrush.

Loren said...

Still my favorite poem, and, amazingly, still summarizes my overall philosophy of life as well as it did when I first discovered it over 50 years ago.

am said...

Good to see this one again.

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks for your responses — Dominic, Bonnie, Ds, Angela, George, Loren and Am.