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.
I love the rhythm of this poem, the way that, even when all is 'spectre-grey', the words carry you purposefully forwards to the tiny darkling thrush and its 'blast-beruffled plume'. Hardy had originally called the poem 'By the Century's Deathbed, 1900', and throughout the poem we feel his anxiety and gloom. Something, though, moved him to change the title, and that one alteration allows us to trust all the more in one bird's hope.
'The Darkling Thrush' appears in Poems of Thomas Hardy, published by Penguin Classics.
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