The Darkling Thrush Questions and Answers
by Thomas Hardy

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'The poem "The Darkling Thrush" is in some ways an elegy for the troubled nineteenth century.' Discuss.

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It is difficult to overstate how traumatic the Victorian era was for so many and how much the very basic assumptions of life had changed during the nineteenth century. Hardy in particular was troubled by the continued process of industrialisation, that threatened to make arable life in England that was so dear to him almost extinct. In addition, the word that in many ways was the mantra of the Victorian era, "Progress," resulted in a rather ambivalent age where scientific advances corresponded with a widespread decline or challenge to religious faith and belief. What is so important about this poem is that it is widely regarded as a poem of transition: Hardy finds himself at a point in time where he straddles two centuries, one which has made him feel increasingly estranged from society and culture, and one which is full of uncertainty and offers little hope of any transformation in the future.

If the language used in the poem is examined, there is a definite sense in which this poem could be described as a kind of lament or elegy for the passing nineteenth century. In fact, the imagery of the grave and of death is explicitly used in the poem, as in the following example:

The land's sharp features seemed to be
The Century's corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
The wind his death-lament.

This quote from the second stanza deliberately equates the bleak landscape that the poet surveys with the "death" of the passing century, with phrases describing the landscape as "The Century's corpse outleant" and the two metaphors of the "cloudy canopy" and the "wind" being compared to the century's "crypt" and "death-lament" cement this comparison. The speaker, as he stands and surveys the landscape in this highly important transitional moment in history, sees the landscape in terms that describe the passing of the last century as if it were a death. As such, the poem can be correctly identifed as an elegy of the nineteenth century to a certain extent.

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