Themes in The Darkling Thrush

Themes Examples in The Darkling Thrush:

The Darkling Thrush 4

"Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew And I was unaware...."   (The Darkling Thrush)

Much of the poem’s beauty arises from the underlying mystery of the thrush. Though Hardy continually hints at a divine touch with words like “blessed,” he allows for a great deal of interpretation as to the source of the bird’s joy. Another mystery lies in the amount of hope the bird bears. While the bird’s song is “full-hearted” and “ecstatic,” Hardy’s speaker is tentative. After all, the thrush is “frail, gaunt, and small” and there appears “such little cause for carolings.” Ultimately, Hardy leaves these questions open to our interpretation. As modern readers, we are in the position to look back on Hardy’s mixed feelings of pessimism and optimism at the turn of the last century, and determine for ourselves whether the thrush has reason to be hopeful.

"ancient pulse of germ and birth..."   (The Darkling Thrush)

The trio of “pulse,” “germ,” and “birth” share almost identical vowel sounds which descend into a liquid consonant, either l or r. The line’s clean tetrameter brings the pulse to life—we can feel it as we read. Referring to the cycle of germination and birth as a pulse heightens the sense of vivacity because of the association of “pulse” with the bloodstream. In this line, Hardy uses the “ancient pulse” to refer to the natural cycles that guided agrarian cultures for thousands of years. When he goes on to describe the pulse as “shrunken hard and dry,” he alludes to the death of agrarian culture due to the industrial revolution.

"The land's sharp features seemed to be The Century's corpse outleant,..."   (The Darkling Thrush)

Here Hardy reveals the true object of death at the heart of the poem: the 19th century. Hardy penned the poem in 1899, and published it the following year. He illustrates the transition from the 19th century to the 20th, and from agrarian culture to modern society using a somber winter landscape. The pre-industrial way of life Hardy knows and loves is dead.

"I leant upon a coppice gate When Frost was spectre-grey,..."   (The Darkling Thrush)

The first couplet establishes the poem’s meter: an alternation between four-beat tetrameter and three-beat trimeter. This jaunty, song-like metrical scheme exists in tension with the poem’s winter atmosphere. The description of the frost as “spectre-grey” has a connotation of death, one of the poem’s central motifs. Hardy’s poem addresses the turn of the 20th century, viewing the rising tide of modernity with a sense of hopelessness.