Thomas Hardy’s poem “The Darkling Thrush” presents the despair regarding the end of a century and the industrial revolution. Discuss.
Or, Discuss “The Darkling Thrush” as an elegy for troubled 19th century.
Thomas Hardy is seen as a modern poet who criticized much of the Victorian society. The declining status of the rural agricultural society and the rural customs and traditions caused by the industrial revolution saddened him. In the poem The Darkling Thrush the poet expresses his despair regarding this decay of a traditional and natural world. Written at the turn of the 20th century, the elegy laments the end of the century which was more natural, more humane and livelier to him. He now is unaware of what is in store for humanity in the upcoming century and finds no hope for something positive. That is why Hardy creates a bleak picture of the world around him — to express the hopelessness and dejection in his mind through the picture of a desolate and dead landscape.
The words like ‘spectre-grey’, ‘Winter’s dregs made desolate’, ‘weakening eye of day’, ‘strings of broken lyres’, ‘the Century’s corpse’ and ‘the cloudy canopy’ — all represent that despair of the speaker. Every spirit on earth seemed to be echoing his lack of passion:
And every Spirit upon earth
Seemed fervourless as I.
This hopelessness on the speaker’s part is reflected throughout the poem. Though later on, we hear a thrush singing a ‘full-hearted evensong’, its appearance doesn’t inspire much hope. “An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small” can symbolize nothing but the decay of something good. This very feeling that something is lost and can never be regained is haunting the poet. Though the thrush may find some optimism in something it knows, the poet cannot believe in that. He is still unaware of any source of joy or hope:
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
And I was unaware.
Thus, the poem “The Darkling Thrush” presents the theme of despair and dejection that is directly related to the end of the nineteenth century and the industrial revolution.
The darkling thrush, was originally written in 1899, at the close of the century. It was only published later in December 1900. The original title of the poem was “By the Century’s Deathbed”, therefore leaving no doubt in its readers’ mind that the poem was an elegy, for the century passing away.
The poem opens with a sad tone lamenting and hinting towards the end of things. The language and imagery used by the poet, such as, “frost was spectre grey”, “winters dreg made desolate”, “the weakening eye of day” points towards the themes of sorrow and death right at the onset of the poem.
Shifting to the next stanza, the poet openly compares closely and relates the “lands sharp features” to that of the “century’s corpse outleant”. Followed by more visual imagery, complemented with direct comparison, to have as much affect on the reader as possible. Thomas hardy calls the “cloudy canopy” to be its “crypt” and “wind its cloudy canopy”.
At this point it could have not been clearer that the focal point of the poet in the poem was the end of the century and lamenting its death. The poet also refers to people vanishing in the poem, “and all mankind that haunted nigh had sought their household fires”. The sudden disappearance of people around the speaker, is how the poet introduces and brings forth the topic of industrialisation, which has come along with the death of the century.
The speaker is left with no hope but in the latter half of the poem, a “darkling” thrush, signifying that the thrush be born of the dark, has come and “flung his soul upon the growing gloom”, describing how the poet had been given hope with the song of the thrush.