The Darkling Thrush
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.
— Thomas Hardy
I must admit that this is one of my all-time favorite poems. I used to struggle with being depressed (it still occasionally drags me down a little, but I’ve mostly overcome it), and I always found this poem uplifting.
Now I know there are people who interpret this poem differently than I (both teachers who taught this poem to me, once in high school and once in university), but “uplifting” is truly the best term to describe it, I think.
The entire poem is filled with beautiful descriptions that for me creates a mental scene so vivid I can almost smell it as well as see it. The first two stanzas paint a picture so bleak that it really spoke to that side of me that struggles with depression. And then when this pathetic little bird bursts into joyous song (“fling his soul/upon the growing gloom” always spoke depths to me), it creates this beautiful contrast. There’s no reason to be seen for the bird to be happy, but it is, making the author wonder if there’s something he doesn’t know, some reason he’s not aware of. And that, to me, says that no matter how bleak things appear, there is always something more, whether you know it or not, something to be joyous about. Almost as if when there’s nothing left, you have the most to be happy about. To me, it’s a poem of hope.
I don’t know, maybe you’ll find something different in the poem. My teachers certainly seemed to think that the overall theme of the poem was depressing, not uplifting. But the emotion this poem invokes in me every time I read it is not a negative one at all. And isn’t that the purpose of poetry? To invoke emotion and thought and leave the reader to his or her own interpretation?
What does this poem say to you? Do you find it boring? Depressing? Or uplifting? I welcome your thoughts and feedback.