Synopsis of The Darkling Thrush by Thomas Hardy 

About the Poet Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardy, one of the most renowned poets and novelists in English Literary history was born in 1840, in Dorset, England. Thomas Hardy is well known for his great novels. Some of them are The Mayor of Casterbridge, Tess of the D'urbervilles, Far from the Madding Crowd and Jude the obscure. Tess of the D'urbervilles and Jude the Obscure are considered as literary classics today. Hardy stopped writing novels in 1899 and concentrated on the writing of verse. Hardy's first collection of poems was called The Wessex Poem. Hardy died in 1928 and his ashes were deposited in the Poets Corner of Westminster Abbey. His heart, having been removed before cremation, was interred in the graveyard at Stinsford Church where his parents, grandparents, and his first wife were buried.

Theme of the Poem The Darkling Thrush

Thomas Hardy usually writes in strict formal patterns and the judicious choice of expressions and repetitive patterns give one a sense of solidity of form. The main themes of his poems are usually disappointment and sufferings, love, nature, fate, and war.
Hardy's poems with disappointment and sufferings are "Neutral Tones and "I Looked into My Glass". Hardy's war-themed poem, "Drummer Hodge” shows people having little control over their fate. Fate is a theme which is most obvious in "The Convergence of the Twain". In the nature-themed poem “The Darkling Thrush", the poet recalls the end of an old generation and the beginning of a new one. The poem is a reflection about his feelings for the future and his attitude to nature.

Summary of the Poem The Darkling Thrush  

"The Darkling Thrush' was written to usher in the New Year and the new century. It is about the lack of hope and the doomed state of the world where everything is sombre, dark and gray. Hardy is an evolutionary meliorist, which means that he believes that the world will move forward and progress through science and its humane qualities. Though he is optimistic about the final moment he appears to be pessimistic about the immediate present. This he illustrates by having the bird demonstrate hope, which is not justified by its surroundings.

Thomas Hardy wrote 'The Darkling Thrush' to express his feelings about the world when it was about to enter the twenty-first century. As the title suggests, the poem is about a bird, a bedraggled thrush that is singing a song on a gloomy evening of the last day of the year. The theme of the poem is 'Hope.' Hope holds influence with great intensity and strength.

The poet portrays the dissolute and grey landscape of winter dusk, leaning on a coppice gate and watching the spectre-grey frost covering the leafless trees of December. The spectacle he was watching was desolate and lonely. He was sad because he felt that the New Year would bring nothing to be happy about. The sudden song of the thrush made him feel hopeful because he felt that the bird knows that the New Year would bring about something joyous which the poet himself is unaware of. The idea of religious faith is conveyed through the thrush's 'carolling, reminiscent of Christmas carols and the 'Blessed Hopehope being one of the three great Christian virtues i.e., faith, hope, and charity (love).

The poem ends on an ambiguous note. One wonders if the speaker is inspired by the 'Blessed Hope' of the thrush's song, or does he continue to lack optimism towards the future? He is 'unaware of the thrush's reasons for being cheerful, but he seems to believe that such a cause for hope exists somewhere, and he simply hasn't discovered (or rediscovered) it yet.

Critical Analysis of the Poem The Darkling Thrush 
The theme of loneliness and isolation abounds in the poem. The poet's choice of words creates an atmosphere of separation from the rest of the world: desolate, weakening, haunted and dregs. However, gradually there comes a change seeing the thrush and its ability to find and create beauty in a joyless landscape allows the narrator to embrace the hope he can find in his own heart.

In the first stanza, we are introduced to the narrator in the first person 'I' leaning against the wooden gate surrounded by bushes and trees on a wintery and isolated evening. This pose is traditionally a thinking pose and the poet conveys his thoughts and feelings of being stressed by the imagery 'frost', 'spectre', 'grey', 'dregs', 'desolate', 'weakening' and 'broken'. This imagery suggests death, ghostly and cold. The broken lyres is a classic image of disharmony and perhaps points to the lack of joy in the poet's vision of life.

In the second stanza, the distinct land depicts the end of the century as the grey clouds and wind enclose the last of the century like a coffin to a corpse. Life is shrunken hard and dry and every other being on earth appears as hopeless and numb.

The alliteration in this stanza intensifies the atmosphere of gloom and death. Everything is seen in terms of death, 'sharp features' (of a dead body), 'century's corpse', 'crypt', 'death-lament', 'shrunken hard and dry, 'fervourless'. It seems that it is not just the death of the old century that Hardy is describing, but the death of the pulse of life.

In the third stanza, the song of the thrush is seen as fatuous optimism in the poem. Hardy chooses an old frail thin scruffy-looking thrush, not the nightingale of Miltonic and Romantic tradition. The thrush represents the optimism and hope for the future but it is equally ironic since it is an aged thrush that is weak and frail.

In the final stanza, it is suggested that the idea of religious faith is conveyed through the thrush's 'carolling, reminiscent of Christmas carols and the 'Blessed Hope - hope being one of the three great Christian virtues i.e. faith, hope, and charity (love).

The title - The Darkling Thrush, is a contradiction because it seems as if the thrush would be a hopeless and gloomy one because of the word 'darkling but in reality, it is the speaker who is the hopeless and gloomy one, while the thrush is cheerful and hopeful.


darkling - in the dark or darkness;
coppice - a thicket of a small group of trees, regularly trimmed to obtain firewood;
spectre-gray - frost made the landscape as grey as a ghost:
dregs - residue or remains of something:
desolate - unhappiness or loneliness/dismal/miserable;
eye of the day - sun;
outlet - lean out; stretched out;
crypt - tomb;
lament - cry;
pulse - life force;
germ - state from which things can grow;
fervourless - lack of zeal or passionate feeling:
fullhearted - overjoyed:
frail – fragile:
gaunt - extremely thin and bony:
blast berruffled - points to the thrush's wings blown by the wind:
plume - feathers ;
carolling - singing of songs;
ecstatic - happy;
afar or nigh - far or near. 
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