Remember when everyone was excited and anxious about the “Y2K” or the change from the twentieth to the twenty-first century. In 1899, Thomas Hardy felt the same way when the end of the nineteenth century came and the twentieth century began. “The Darkling Thrush” speaks about this phenomenon which only happens every hundred years.
The narration is first person point of view with an unknown person as the speaker. The narrator becomes like the representative for the “Turn of the Century”; consequently, without defining characteristics, the narrator becomes an any man or everyman who stands at the eve of a new day or time.
The setting is a wintry landscape. Everything has lost it leaves with everything dark and gray. The time is evening with the wind blowing. The scene seems desolate.
There are four stanzas with eight lines per verse. Every stanza follows the same rhyme scheme: every other line rhymes.
I leant upon a coppice gate (A)
When Frost was spectre-gray, (B)
And Winter's dregs made desolate (A)
The weakening eye of day. (B)
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky (C)
Like strings of broken lyres, (D)
And all mankind that haunted nigh (C)
Had sought their household fires. (D)
The poem is divided into two parts. The first two stanzas metaphorically compare the wintry landscape exposing a cold, bleak night to the end of the last century. In the last two verses, something brightens the outlook for the new century giving hope that times will be better.
The speaker leans against a gate formed by bushes or brush. The winter and frost have made the landscape appear dreary and uninviting. The sun is going down, and there are intertwined, unadorned branches reaching toward the sky. The poet compares the limbs to the strings of a broken musical instrument. Almost all of mankind has gone home to snuggle in front of their fireplaces.
The dreary setting and its stark features represent the old century’s dead body. Its tomb is the overcast clouds. The wind blowing seems to be singing the death dirge. Nothing is growing because everything has been reduced to frozen ground and earth. Everyone and everything appear to have be without spirit including the speaker.
Suddenly, there is a sound or voice that can be heard among the barren branches. It is a song full of courage and confidence with unlimited delight. An older bird, a thrush, appears thin, emaciated, and tiny, can be seen with its feathers ruffled by the wind. This singular bird has chosen to confront the gloomy night with its heart and soul. It is a part of nature that the wintry spirits have not conquered.
There little reason to sing especially such a happy sound that is more heavenly than earthly. The speaker begins to think that this beautiful song gives hope. He realizes that this is a good omen for the future; however, although the bird has brought hope into the scope of the poet, he is still unclear about what the future will bring.
Surprisingly, the new century is escorted into being by the gaunt bird rather than the lonely man. The narrator does not even try to find out why this bird is singing or from where it came. He just accepts the encouragement for the dawn of the new century. The thrush symbolizes the spirit of expectations: a hope for a world of beauty without evil; and the hope for the beginning of a new era.