The winter carolings of Hardy’s frail thrush send a poignant message
My favourite poem, The Darkling Thrush highlights Hardy’s despair at the changes he witnessed as England’s agricultural based society was impacted by the industrial revolution. The narrator describes a bleak landscape that reflects this despair. He sees a “frail, gaunt, and small” thrush, suggesting that nature is also affected by the changes.
Yet, in the death of winter, nature also offers a glimmer of hope, and this is what resonates with me. Despite the comfortless landscape, the thrush has an inner strength that compels it to sing in the stillness. There’s hope for the next century after all, as the thrush’s song lifts the narrator’s spirits.
I’m hopeful that those of us who care can ‘fling our souls’ on the growing gloom today, and slow the environmental decline that started with the industrial revolution.
That’s not to deny the benefits of life-changing and life-saving discoveries and inventions, but to recognise that we need to repair the damage and restore the ecological balance. We must make individual and collective choices for change. We can be the small thrush who sings with hope amidst the gloom.
By Thomas Hardy (1840–1928 )
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.
Sussex Winter by Mr Seb on Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)
Song Thrush by Alex Brighten