Analysis of Thomas Hardy's The Darkling Thrush -- A Darkling Hope

In the sense of brevity and descriptive art The Darkling Thrush is the masterpiece of Thomas Hardy which at the same time expresses his mixed reaction - pessimism and optimism for the coming generation. At the fag end of the nineteenth century, i. e.  on 31st December 1900, the last day of 19th century , the day the poem is composed, the poet is somewhat listless. The vast desolate winter atmosphere and lifelessness create a fit occasion to give rise in the poet’s mind to the central thought embodied in the poem- a pensive  reflection to life and society.

 Poems of the Past and the Present (1901), which includes The Darkling Thrush, contains many poems expressing Hardy's dismay with British imperialism. There he also mourns the passing of agricultural society and sees little cause to celebrate England’s rapid industrialization, which destroy the customs and traditions of rural life. Here in The Darkling Thrush ,in the transition of two centuries, he finds nothing hopeful or constructive. Yet there remains remote possibilities which the thrush prophesies.                                        

  First of all the poet presents a desolate winter scene at the close of the day. People living nearby had retired indoors. There was frost which was pale as ghost. The inclement weather of the winter still prevailed and the sun has already set on the western horizon. The stems of the bine trees have already reached the sky. Each and every member of the society was in earnest quest of their domestic entertainments. The poet is leant upon the gate. The sharp features of the landscape appeared to be the corpse or dead body of the nineteenth century. The century was almost dying. The process of birth and growth seemed to have stopped in the rigorous winter. The sky was cloudy, a storm was blowing. Every living being felt gloom and depression. But suddenly a song issued from the dark and decayed branches of the tree. It was spontaneous and it comes from the inner most core of the heart. It was excessively joyous and delightful. An old thrush that was lean, frail and weak was singing to his heart’s content in the midst of enveloping darkness. His plume was perturbed by the gust of wind. The poet finds the ray of hope in the bird’s song. He hopes for the coming golden future.

                Hardy’s thrush represents his pessimism in the midst of optimism or reversal. It seems that Hardy is stranded between optimism and pessimism, between hope and despair. The poet is acutely suffering from a kind of dilemma or conflict. The evening symbolizes left helpless, despair, frustration, metal darkness and disillusionment. But the song of the thrush symbolizes the spirit of hope a hope for a world of beauty, a world which is devoid of ugliness, the hope of the beginning of a new era or century or Millennium. It represents the passing away of an old century and heralding of a bright and hopeful new century.

                In The Darkling Thrush, Hardy the pessimist sings the glory of Hardy, the optimist. Although all was not right with his world, yet all was not wrong, all was not dead. Only for a moment, the pulse of the life seemed to stop but in the very next moment with all spontaneity life spring up with all its “joy illimited”. Beneath the wintry desolation there lies the eternal pulse of germ and birth. Behind the death of the old century there is the birth of new century, behind death and despair there is hope and life. From the very title of the poem it is clear that the thrush is sitting in the dark in the encircling gloom just like Hardy himself in “the long drip of human tears”. Yet out of this gloom bursts a song of hope, out of the goodnight air trembles forth an air of good morning – “if winter comes can spring be far behind”. The thrush thus symbolized the spirit of resurrection of new life of joy and hope that lay in store of the future, the store of the new century. The poet has not been transported out of the “growing gloom” of the present century but his response to the thrush’s song is positive. Although the “blessed Hope” i.e. knowledge of hope and prosperity only the bird has and of which the poet is yet unaware, Hardy accepts the bird’s song as a sign that there is hope for the future.

                Hardy’s The Darkling Thrush is the basis of Hardy’s self-designated “evolutionary meliorism. Hardy has a growing consciousness or awareness of the ‘blessed hope’ for the future generation. Hardy is basically pessimistic but a note of optimism is noticed here in his faith in man’s future. The song of the thrush is joyous and spontaneous. The bird by virtue of its instinct knows the future but the poet is not aware of. Here Hardy’s attitude to nature is philosophical. Nature’s outward appearance may change but life in Nature in never dead.     

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