"Pessimism for Hardy is not an end in itself but an instrument for exposure of his highly refined sense of reality, a sense better captured by the phrase 'tragic realism' than the word...

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There is a definite sense in which Hardy, in this poem, is writing about more than simply his own feelings at the turn of the century and the point of transition between the Victorian era and the Modern era. He manages to capture the feelings of a nation and of an entire people, and for this reason his views and feelings cannot be simply dismissed as "pessimism." Much debate has been given to the importance of the thrush in the poem, and the way that this creature could be viewed as above all a realistic and authentic representation of uncertain hope in an age of certain instability. A poem that was truly pessimistic would not have the figure of the thrush in it, a thrush whose song is "of joy illimited." In addition, the action of the thrush in terms of its desire to "fling its soul / Upon the growing gloom" is one that would make dismissing this poem as an example of pessimism impossible.

However, the quote in this question is correct in modifying the presentation of Hardy's views as being characterised by "tragic realism." Certainly, although the thrush is a figure that embodies hope, there is no sense in which the landscape relents in its oppressive, icy impact on both the speaker and the thrush. Note how the thrush is described in the following quote:

An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
Upon the growing gloom.

The vehicle for represening hope is at best a pitiful one, in danger of being overpowered by the elements, as reflected in the forceful alliteration of "blast-beruffled" that emphasises the power of the wind and the puny status of the thrush. There is also too an interesting choice of words in the verb "fling." "Fling" is a verb that seems to hint at a careless, hopeless action, as if the thrush is seeking in vain to represent the forces of hope. This uncertainty is picked up in the final line of the poem, where the speaker reflects that even if the thrush does know of some legitimate reason for hope, the speaker himself is unaware of any. Hope does exist in this poem, but Hardy is ever the realist about the chances of hope given the forces ranged against it. "Tragic realism" does seem to be the more appropriate phrase to use when describing this poem.


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