How does "The Darkling Thrush" & "Ah, Are You Digging My Grave reflect the pessimism and disillusionment of the late Victorian era?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There is no question that both poems of Hardy, "The Darkling Thrush" and "Ah, Are you Digging My Grave" are typical of the poetic ventures of Hardy into frustration and defeat against a blind, indifferent life force that is neutral about the fate of man.

Since it has often been noted that writers such as Marx and Darwin forced Victorians to reassess their relationship to one another and to nature, the speakers of both poems evoke this anxiety as their emotional turmoil is projected into the physical world.  In "The Darkling Thrush," for instance, it is a bleak and cold world, "shrunken hard and dry" that the speaker perceives.  And, there seems little hope of closing the gap between him, "fervourless as I," and the bird, who is aware of "Some blessed Hope" that he is not.  With this tenuous relationship with nature comes the Victorian fear of the future and a nostalgia for order overshadowed by a more Modernist perspective of a deep pessimism about the ability of humanity to change behavior.

This pessimism regarding humans' ability to change behavior prevails in Hardy's "Ah Are You Digging on My Grave?" as the 'Hardyesque' "satire of circumstance" is thematic.  Like many of his characters, the speaker of Hardy's poem is the victim of the cruel irony of a world that does not answer her need for order and love. 

My love one?--planting rue?"

--No, yesterday he went to wed

One of the brightest wealth has bred.

'It cannot hurt her now,' he said.

Instead, it is an unhappy vision of life that does not even give respect to its dead.  For, even in death this Victorian woman is subjugated to her husband's whims. For, in "Ah Are You Digging on My Grave?" the husband speaks,

What good will planting flowers produce?

Likewise, in "The Darkling Thrush," Hardy bleakly writes,

So little cause for carolings

     Of such ecstatic sound

Was written on terrestrial things

     Afar or nigh around

With the themes that are moral and spiritual, both of Hardy's poems are Victorian: Nature is an environment of bleak and arbitary struggle without purpose.

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The Darkling Thrush

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