The Darkling Thrush: Leave-taking

The Darkling Thrush

By Thomas Hardy

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.

Leave-taking

The little wood stove in the tack room pumps heat. I sit in the doorway in the padded seat of a folding chair and look upon “winter’s dregs.”  The New Year is almost here, and Mule Springs is finally showing the season’s “weakening eye of day.”  No longer enough light to knit the red hat, and my eyes tire of reading.  Heavy rain pings the tin roof.  Beats of sound  form a heavy veil like fog descending into Three Mile Canyon.

Lines of Thomas Hardy’s 1901 poem “The Darkling Thrush” play for my inner ear as they do every New Year’s Eve.

And “tangled bine-stems [score] the sky/ like strings of broken lyres.”

And, I too have sought a “household fire” to shield myself from year-end’s deepest gloom.

Morso woodstove in the tack room: the inside space for leave-taking.

I search the great oak’s weathered frame for the “aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small” in the “bleak twigs overhead.”

Great weathered oak near the barn at Mule Springs.

Yet I know the melodious harbinger of growing light –the presence among the curly, pale lichen –the specter

sitting for the quickening flow – draws nigh.

Although neither sight nor sound brings “full-hearted evensong/ of joy illimited,”

I fathom “Some Blessed Hope” rising near . . .

the coming year.

Author’s Note:  “The Darkling Thrush” is one of my favorite poems, and though I find Thomas Hardy’s novels bleak, this atmospheric work shows the perfect balance between gloom and cheer.  No matter where I live, I always seem to find the “tangled bine-stems,” the “Winter’s dregs made desolate” and the symbol of the “aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small” on New Year’s Eve.

Wishing all a Happy New Year!

8 thoughts on “The Darkling Thrush: Leave-taking

  1. Really lovely poem that I did not know at all – very evocative of December in the UK, and presumably elsewhere too. What is meant by ‘the Century’s corpse outleant’, I wonder?

    Hope you had a happy Hogmanay (we did) and will have a wonderful 2012!

    Joanna

    1. Joanna– thanks for stopping in and Happy Hogmananay! Ours was quiet and perfect–we enjoyed a fire n the woodstove, played some fiddle tunes, read, and I did some knitting.

      About the poem–“The Darkling Thrush” is a poem I have loved for years, and I have never read any analysis on it other than the simple biographical information explaining when Hardy wrote and published it. Here is a link you will probably enjoy that goes into some analysis.
      http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/booksblog/2009/dec/28/poem-of-the-week-the-darkling-thrush-thomas-hardy

      But I will say — in my mind —
      the “corpse’s outleant” is the NY Eve landscape- so bleak and full of sharp relief of death–versus the softening textures and hues of spring, which most certainly are coming. The “corpse’s outleant” is all that surrounds the corpse– the corpse being the old year..

      I find the melancholic nature of the work beautiful. It doesn’t make me sad or bother me in the slightest. The old year is worn out, and change is in the air. It seems most natural that the New Year brings hope and cheer — represented by the bird’s song. Despite the fact the bird is just barely able to sing. I love the idea of seeing the light, having faith it shall come, though it is not presently there.

      Of course the analysis may have other observations. This is what the poem does for me. 🙂

    1. Hi Mary
      A few lines from what I said to Joanna: (Thanks for reading-sorry to make you sad)

      “I find the melancholic nature of the work beautiful. It doesn’t make me sad or bother me in the slightest. The old year is worn out, and change is in the air. It seems most natural that the New Year brings hope and cheer — represented by the bird’s song. Despite the fact the bird is just barely able to sing. I love the idea of seeing the light, having faith it shall come, though it is not presently there.”
      Sher

  2. “No matter where I live, I always seem to find the “tangled bine-stems,” the “Winter’s dregs made desolate” and the symbol of the “aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small” on New Year’s Eve.”

    I’m deeply drawn to this notion of finding certain things over and over wherever we are, like totems, or symbols encoding something of who we are. Thanks for sharing the beautiful poem of Hardy’s and your thoughts on the winding down of the year, Sher. I enjoyed very much this journey to Mule Springs in the cold season, and the view from the tack room…

    And best wishes for 2012!

    1. Thanks Julian– I know you have been so busy with your own writing–thanks for taking a moment to look here. I agree the idea of recurring patterns in one’s life is very interesting. I think it probably happens with all people, but we “see” it through artists’ works. 🙂 Success to you this year! Sher

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