Thomas Hardy

(2 June 1840 – 11 January 1928 / Dorchester / England)

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.

Submitted: Tuesday, December 31, 2002
Edited: Monday, December 05, 2011

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  • Rookie - 3 Points Bryan Baker (6/14/2013 10:33:00 PM)

    It is worth noting that the thrush in the poem has to be old and nearing his end because he symbolizes the death of the 19th century, which for Hardy is moribund and by implication threatens to cast its dark shadow over the century about to be born. Despite this the thrush is saying through his joyful song that the future is not all bleak and the poet shouldn't despair. The hope of which the thrush sings is for the return of spring. What the poet is hoping for is less clear. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Andrew Hoellering (7/9/2009 11:14:00 AM)

    I wonder why one particular Hardy poem and not others, equally deserving, attracts comments?
    The Darkling Thrush (suggestive title!) has a superb detailed setting of a wasteland scene, the more effectively to contrast with the redemptive voice of the thrush, first described at exactly the mid-point of the poem. It is significant that the bird, bringing ‘joy unlimited, ’ is described as ‘ancient, frail, gaunt and small’ as Hardy in old age wrote poems of outstanding merit – a possible parallel.
    ‘Bine-stems’ appears both in the original version of the poem and above, and this is also true of ‘aged’ thrush, so I’m unclear what Keith and Jack and are on about.
    What IS different is ‘his’ (not its) crypt in stanza two, line three, which becomes ‘his’death lament in line four. In stanza three the original reads ‘in’ (not ‘with’) blast-beruffled plume' –far better! (Report) Reply

  • Rookie jack russell (1/6/2007 4:26:00 AM)

    I agree wholeheartedly with Keith. The 2 changes he refers to are departures from the original. 'Century's corpse outleant' however, refers not to a corpse of 'man', but (if you check when the poem was written) to the passing of the 19thC. and the uncertainty of beginning a new one - particularly with the regrets and failing in his personal life foremost in his mind. A wonderful journey of darkness into light and hope. Hard to find a better poem. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Keith Negal (2/7/2006 2:07:00 AM)

    I believe two changes need to be made to the words on the web site. I'm sure that 'vine-stems' should be 'bine-stems'. This is an English west country scene in which there were no vines, but bine probably refers to bindweed or convulvulous or maybe old man's beard which does tangle in thorn bushes and die off to stems in winter. Also in versions of this poem I've seen previously the thrush is 'aged' not 'ancient' and I prefer that. Birds don't live long enough through the English winter to become 'ancient' but I've seen many scruffy 'aged' thrushes. You may have guessed that this is one of my favourite poems and one I've committed to memory. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Matthew Cushing (12/8/2005 5:32:00 AM)

    One of my favorites. The evocation of place is outstanding. You feel the cold, sense the death and grayness of the surround. You empathize with the poet's mood. The sudden intervention of song from such a poor, forsaken creature brings tears. Life just may be worth continuing after all. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 0 Points Gillian.E. Shaw (3/14/2005 7:31:00 AM)

    This poem is both beautiful and macarbre. In the first stanza the poet places himself in an evening winter landscape leaning on a gate surveying all that can be seen. Commenting on the length of day; the weather; the fact that everyone is at home around their hearth; one can see the picture painted is of a fruitless and barren time of year owing to the reference made to the vine.
    The second stanza begins with a personification and compares the landscape to the body of a corpse who has lived to be very old (100 years) was perhaps crippled or certainly at the end of life without substance or sapp as in youth. The reference to low clouds and wind add to the eerie, death like vision of the countryside which is barren and fruitless where nothing has the incentive or energy to grow.
    In the third stanza the poet reveals the powerful voice of a thrush and his effort to disrupt the scene.
    Finally, the poet can't understand what the bird finds to sing about. Perhaps there is a connection here between song and joy. The poets indication that the celebration of Christmas may be futile or a complete lack of faith are revealed in the final two lines where he questions hope.
    I always enjoy Hardy he is delightful. A Poet of the 19th Century he wrote poems and novels about those who lived in the countryside of southern England. (Report) Reply

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