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