‘The Darkling Thrush’ written by Thomas Hardy is a poem reflecting a melancholic mood with bleakness al around in the beginning stanzas of the poem. But later the title is reflected and a frail thrush is shown singing amidst the gloomy wintry frost atmosphere all around. ‘The Darkling Thrush’ symbolically mourns the passing of an era. In that respect, it is an elegy — a mournful poem that deals with death. here, the death of the century.
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Summary: The Darkling Thrush
When the frost was ghostly grey and the depressing winter landscape made the setting, sun seem lonely and abandoned, the speaker leaned on a gate before a thicket of small trees. Twining plants, rising high, were silhouetted against the sky like the strings of broken lyres. All the people who lived nearby were inside their homes, gathered around their household fires. The countryside looked like a corpse. The cloudy sky was the roof of the corpse’s crypt, the speaker says, and the wind its song of death. The cycle of birth and rebirth seemed to have shrunken and dried up, like the spirit of the speaker. But then he heard the joyful song of a bird—a frail old thrush—coming from scrawny branches overhead. The song was a jubilant outpouring against the evening gloom. The dreary landscape gave the thrush no reason to sing with such overflowing happiness. The speaker wondered whether the bird was a harbinger of some hope of which he was unaware.
Word-Meanings; The Darkling Thrush
darkling – in darkness or darkening
leant – leaned
coppice – A thicket or grove of small trees or shrubs
spectre-grey – ghostly grey, frost made the landscape as grey as a ghost
dregs – the fallen snow and heavy fog
desolate – without people, lonely and unhappy
tangled – entwined and not separated
bine-stem – a dried out stem of bindweed
scored – carved
haunted – ghostly, lacking fervour and passion of life
nigh – near
corpse – dead body
outleant – stretched out
crypt – a burial place
canopy – a layer covering as a roof shelter, example- a canopy of trees in a forest
lament – to feel or express grief and regret etc
pulse – the throbbing aand beating
germ – the small beginning of life
shrunken – get reduced, become smaller
fervourless – lacking warmth and emotions
ecstatic – feeling great joy and full of emotions
evensong – song or prayer sung in the evening
gaunt – thin and weak
illimited – unlimited
blast – sudden rush of strong wind
blast-be ruffled plume – scruffy (dirty) feathers due to strong gust of wind
terrestrial – the earth and its inhabitants
caroling – singing of joy
afar or nigh – in the distance or nearby
air – tune
unaware – not knowing
A. Answer these questions with reference to the context.
- The ancient pulse of germ and birth…
a. What is the ‘ancient pulse’?
b. What does ‘germ and birth’ signify?
c. What has happened to the ancient pulse?
- At once a voice arose…
a. Whose voice is it?
b. What is the significance of ‘at once’?
c. How does the voice change the mood of the poem?
- So little cause for carolings…
a. Who is singing?
b. Why does the poet say, ‘little cause for caroling’?
c. Apart from caroling, what is the general scenario like?
- a. Something that is there from times immemorial.
b. It signifies seed and life.
c. In the winter and frost everything is dry and lifeless. The process of life itself seems to have been halted
- a. The thrush’s voice.
b. There is a sudden change in the mood and tone. From dreary and gloomy, there is hope and cheer.
c. The thrush’s ecstatic song breaks the mood of bleakness
- a. The thrush
b. The bird is old with ruffled feathers so logically no reason to celebrate yet sings a happy song.
c. It is gloomy and dreary.
B. Answer these questions.
- Summarise stanza two in your own words.
- How does the mood suddenly change in the poem?
- Bring out the contrast within the third stanza.
- What does the contrast between what the thrush looks like and its song signify?
- How does the thrush symbolise the limitless joy?
- Show how Hardy’s mood is reflected through landscape, the season and the bird in this poem.
- Do you think the poem is about hope or despair? Discuss.
- Do you think the depiction of the harshness of winter landscape lends a mood of despair in the poem? Comment.
- The speaker is standing at the edge of a ‘coppice,’ a thicket of bushes or small trees. He surveys a desolate scene at the end of a winter day. He is alone in that ‘haunted night’; all the rest of humankind ‘had sought their household fires.’ Details pertaining to death (the bine-stems ‘like strings from broken lyres,’ the ‘crypt,’ the ‘death-lament,’ the ‘ancient pulse’ that is ‘shrunken hard and dry’) add up to a depressing total. The scene of icy, clear death images and the harsh, austere feeling are firmly set in the reader’s mind.
- It changes with the thrush breaking into a happy song.
- Though there is little reason for the old and weary bird to sing, it does so and changes the mood.
- It is about hope in the face of despair, about endings and cautious beginnings, about courage when all seems lost, depending on the way you look at it.
- Singing a cheerful song even amidst all the gloom.
- Frost is described as ‘spectre–grey’ or ghost-like grey. The Winter’s dregs (the fallen snow and heavy fog) are making the twilight/ dusk (the weakening eye of day) look desolate. Climbing plants, dead for winter, have left behind only their climbing stems or bine stems. They add to the gloominess.
- No one knows what inspires the darkling thrush singing (compared to singing Christmas carols). The ‘ecstatic sound’ of the thrush is in complete contrast to such a hopeless situation. The poet cannot think of any earthly event or cause, near or far away that could be responsible.
- Of course, the depiction of harshness of winter landscape lends a mood of despair. The spectre-grey, desolateness, simile of broken strings of lyre, the trees without leaves bring despair and hopelessness in mind and things appear bleak and lifeless.
A. Give two examples of these figures of speech from the poem.
1. simile 2. alliteration 3. metaphor
B. Comment on the rhyme scheme of the poem.
- simile—the vines become ‘like’ a broken stringed instrument.
- alliteration—cloudy canopy,
- metaphor—connects the land to the dying Century – it becomes the ‘body’ of the Century’s corpse.
B. Rhyming Scheme: ababcdcd