Wednesday, December 31, 2008

"The Darkling Thrush"

Thomas Hardy's timely meditation on the turning of an era.

By Robert Pinsky Posted Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2008, at 7:58 AM ET,

"This month's classic poem is Thomas Hardy's "The Darkling Thrush," which Hardy dated "31 December 1900": the last evening of the 19th century. More than a decade ago (June 1998), as the millennial year approached, I offered Slate readers "The Darkling Thrush" as a hard-to-equal model for responses to the turn of a millennium.

Now, at what many hope is the start of a new era, and in time for the new year, here again is Hardy's vividly described little bird with its blend of comedy and pathos. The "blast-beruffled" thrush in its wintry landscape may represent Hardy's bow of his head toward John Keats and Keats' great "
Ode to a Nightingale" of May 1819—when their century was much younger..."

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 fervorless 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.

31 December 1900
Thomas Hardy

For more information on Thomas Hardy, click here.

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