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.
Starting With the Poem
Written in 1899, The Darkling Thrush is very much a reflection of Hardyâs troubled conscience, torn between the insecurity posed by revolutionary religious assertions and a faint belief in the resurrection of mankind.
The poem marks the termination of two significant events â the decline of the Victorian age with its religious beliefs, agrarian society and the end of Hardyâs career as a novelist. The critical reception of two of his novels, âThe Tess of the d’Urbervillesâ (1891) and âJude the Obscureâ (1895), led Hardy turn towards poetry as means of self-expression. Moreover, the decay of agricultural society brought about by relentless Industrialization, along with the abatement of religious beliefs by Darwinâs revolutionary assertion on evolution, made him sceptical like his contemporaries, Mathew Arnold, and Tennyson. This explains the reason behind the other title, âBy Centuryâs Deathbed,â the poem had, when it was published on December 29, by a weekly newspaper called âThe Graphic.â
Leaning âuponâ a gate that opens into the woods (coppice gate), Hardy makes a short estimation of his surrounding; âFrostâ appears âghost-like,â the already waning day is rendered lonely (desolate) by the last bite of winter (winterâs dregs). Along with this, the rising stems of shrubs resemble the âstringsâ of a âbrokenâ harp (lyre). He further observes that on such a frighteningly âhauntedâ night, all mankind seems to huddle beside their âhouseholdâ fires. The barren landscape evokes a deathlike feeling and in tune with the rapidly closing century, appears as its corpse that lies (outleant), within a tomb (crypt) of overhanging clouds. With the wind singing a mournful elegy (death lament), there is hardly any note of rejuvenation, and even the seeds of spring, promising life, are shrunken hard. Consequently, the poet feels lifeless (fervourless). Suddenly the pervading gloom is interrupted by the vibrant (full-hearted) song of an aged and frail thrush. Since the bleak landscape could hardly be a source of inspiration for the birdâs âcarolings,â the poet wonders what âblessed Hopeâ that he is unaware of, has inspired it.
Desolation and Gloom
Right from the very onset, the inescapable feeling is one of depression and loneliness. The landscape seems in anticipation of an impending doom, with âFrostâ assuming the semblance of an unearthly spirit. It is a âhaunted nigh,â and everyone is âfervourless.â
Hope amidst Despair
The thrush and its carefree song, embodying eternal hope, voice the poetâs belief in some betterment of the dreary situation.
Four stanzas of eight lines
The rhyme scheme is ABABCDCD
Mood and Tone
Till stanza 2, the poem bears a pessimistic tone, and the mood is meditative. With the emergence of the thrush in stanza 3, both the tone and mood become inspiring and hopeful.
Hardy is well-known for coining new words in his poems and several such ânonce wordsâ that he create in this poem for maintaining its rhyme scheme, and meter are, “outleant,” “blast-beruffled,” and “spectre-gray.” Simultaneously, he also uses words of other poets such as âdarkling,â (a term employed by Mathew Arnold In âDover Beachâ and John Keats in an âOde to a Nightingale.â Besides these, the major portion of the poem is dominated by gloomy sounding words such as, âgray,â âdregs,â âdesolate,â âbroken,â and âhaunted.â It is from stanza 3 that the words become a bit lively. For instance, in lines 5â6 of Stanza 3, the domination of âbâ sound in the words, âblast-beruffled,â intensifies the presence of the bird amidst the bleak surrounding.
- The âaged thrushâ symbolizes hope for the depressed mankind
- The âtangled bine-stemsâ heighten the bleakness of the surrounding
Image and Imagery
In the first half of the poem, most of the images are gray and grim. For instance, the lines, 3â4, âAnd Winterâs dregs made desolate/The weakening eye of day,â create a picture of looming solitariness or the lines, 9â12, âThe land’s sharp features seemed to be/The Century’s corpse outleant,/His crypt the cloudy canopy,/The wind his death-lament.â establish an image of sorrow and futility. From stanza 3, the images tend to be bright as the poet remarks that the bird sings a âfull-hearted evensong / of joy illimited.â
Figures of Speech Used
- In line 2, âFrostâ is personified as someone having ghost-like features to develop the barren setting of the poem
- In line 3, âWinterâ is personified as someone responsible for increasing the isolation when the poet says,â And Winter’s dregs made desolate/The weakening eye of day.â
- In line 10, the âCenturyâ is personified as someone whoâs dead, and his âcorpseâ is the arid land.
- In line 31, âHopeâ is personified to emphasize the ushering of something good despite morose circumstances.
- In line 5,â The tangled bine-stemsâ are compared to âstrings of broken lyresâ
- In line 15, âevery spirit upon earthâ is said to be as listless as the poet
In line 9 10, the âlandâ is said to resemble the âcorpseâ of the fast fading âCentury.â
In lines 11â12, the cloudy sky is said to be the tomb (crypt) of the âCenturyâ and the winter wind is compared with the âdeath lamentâ sung for the departed âCentury.â
- Lines 1-2 â âAt once, a voice arose among the bleak twigs overhead.’
- Repetition of âkâ sounds in the lines, Lines 1-7: âI leant upon a coppice gate … And all mankind that haunted nigh.â
The Darkling Thrush, apart from echoing the Victorian traits of being a lyric or having a moral objective, is also a fitting forerunner of Modernism, for, in dealing with loss, despair, and loneliness, it reflects a trend that was going to be explored more intensely by Eliot and Pound.