The Darkling Thrush

Written at the turn of the 20th century, Thomas Hardy’s “The Darkling Thrush” is a meditation on changing times. Hardy introduces a pastoral setting, depicting a bleak winter landscape which represents the “Century’s corpse.” Each detail of the scene speaks of decay. The frost is “spectre-grey”; the cloud canopy, a “crypt”; the wind, a “death-lament.” Hardy’s narrator expresses sorrow about the approach of modernity. Gone is the agrarian culture—attuned with the “ancient pulse of germ and birth”—that defined life before the Industrial Revolution. Out of the barren landscape emerges the figure of the thrush. The bird, though gaunt and shaken, sings a song that fills the narrator with a sense of hope. At the poem’s heart lies the mystery of the thrush’s song. We do not know why the thrush sings or what there is to be hopeful for, only that the narrator is entranced by it. In rendering this scene, Hardy brings his highest faculties as a poet, crafting language of exceptional beauty.

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