The Darkling Thrush
by Thomas Hardy
I leant upon a coppice gate
When Frost was spectre-gray,
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.
Many say this is a poem about Hardy’s pessimism and turn from faith and it’s easy to see how it could be read this way. But it’s also possible to see this as a poem of hope. Against a bleak landscape, an “aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,/In blast-beruffled plume,/Had chosen thus to fling his soul/Upon the growing gloom.” Even if there is “little cause for carolings,” the little bird’s “full-hearted evensong of joy illimited” rings out through the night with “Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew/And I was unaware.”
My resolution for this New Year is to be a little more like this “blast-beruffled bird” and to “fling [my] soul upon the growing gloom” with a song of Hope even when it seems like there is little cause.
May each and every one of us experience moments of “joy illimited” this year.