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.
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.