The Darkling Thrush
The Darkling Thrush by Thomas Hardy can be said to be a very suggestive critique of the rush of scientific discoveries and developments which dominated the Victorian Era.
The poem can be said to be a reflection of Hardy’s gloomy thoughts given the heavy use of the imagery reflecting the end of the year, day, even perhaps the century. This is indicated through the use of words like ‘desolate’, ‘frost’, ‘spectre-grey’, ‘tangled, ‘broken lyre’ etc. It is then no wonder, that this poem was earlier known as ‘The Century’s End, 1990’.
Summary of The Darkling Thrush
Lines 1- 8
The poem involves the speaker in the action who is leaning ‘upon a coppice gate’. He is observing the events of the nineteenth century (century’s corpse outleant’).The century is a ‘corpse’ now not just because it is ending but also because something in the events has led to the death of the century. Due to the surge of scientific discoveries, there was observed a decline in religious faith which is also partly out of Hardy’s personal beliefs too. The ‘aged thrush’ then comes forth as a contrast not only to the author but also to the narrator of the poem and the ‘growing gloom’ in the poem. This difference in the joy which is far beyond the limits of sadness felt by the thrush and of which the narrator is ‘unaware’ is the focus of the poem. But this realization too is an ambiguous end to the poem, where questions arise as to what is actually the narrator feeling: whether he is optimistic or still as gloomy as before.
After the gloomy and in a sense dying description of the surroundings in which the narrator is leaning on a gate; he moves to specifically describing what he is doing there. He describes that the land in front of him has ‘sharp features’ as if like a map of the century’s activities and events. It has the ‘century’s corpse outleant’ which is a reference to the century that has gone by. The poet uses the word ‘outleant’ although it does not actually mean anything, which is possibly to suggest that his experience cannot be expressed through the limited words already in our vocabulary. Note the fact that the poet has only referred to things up till now, and has personified the inanimate with different adjectives of death. He is using nature and elements of nature to describe his thoughts. He refers to the unsuccessful process of germination which is another way of denoting death and ends the stanza on the very note of gloominess (‘fervourless’).
He is unable to figure out in these lines as to why (‘little cause’) the thrush’s ‘carollings’. This is a contrast to the dreary surroundings which had been earlier described. The poet calls the ‘carollings’ an ‘ecstatic sound’. This sound of happiness or jubilation is compared to the ‘terrestrial things’, which is again reflective of the animate and the inanimate objects. He is trying to find the source of such happiness because he cannot understand it given the environment and later concludes that it is perhaps a ‘blessed hope’ he know and he was unaware of. These lines could also be said to be a reference to the coming of a new era, a positive incoming of a new century with new poets, as opposed to poets like Hardy who belonging to the old era, were oblivious of this fact.