A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Friday, February 26, 2010

Poem of the Day: Thomas Hardy

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 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 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, 
     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. 
--Thomas Hardy 

In general, I prefer Hardy the poet to Hardy the novelist. In his fiction, he's so eager to prove that the Universe has it in for Humankind that he stacks the deck. Thus, Tess goes to her doom because of a letter that slips under the carpet when it's slid under the door. But at least in "The Darkling Thrush" there's some cold comfort: a bird's song arousing Hope. 

Of course, old Hardy knows that things are going to remain "desolate," "weakening" and "fervorless." The poem, famously, was published in the Times of London on January 1, 1901, the first day of a new century, and was originally given the perhaps more Hardyesque title "By the Century's Deathbed." Given that the century a-borning would see two World Wars and all manner of atrocity besides, that hopeful thrush turned out to be a birdbrain.