The Darkling Thrush by Thomas Hardy

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Summary

(Poetry for Students)

Stanza 1
The opening lines of “The Darkling Thrush” establish the tone and the setting of the poem. Hardy underscores the speaker’s meditative mood by describing him leaning upon a “coppice gate,” meaning a gate that opens onto the woods. The presence of frost tells readers it is winter, and the adjective “spectre-grey,” a word Hardy coined, suggests a haunted landscape. The word “dregs” means the last of something, but here the dregs act upon the “weakening eye of day,” making the twilight “desolate.”

In the fifth and sixth lines, the speaker uses a simile to compare “tangled bine-stems” to “strings of broken lyres.” Bine-stems are the stems of shrubs, and a lyre is a stringed musical instrument similar to a harp. Although “score” is a musical term, Hardy uses it to create an ominous visual image. While the speaker is outside contemplating a bleak landscape, the rest of the world is comfortably inside, warmed by “their household fires.”

Stanza 2
In this stanza, the speaker uses metaphor to describe the barren landscape as the corpse of the nineteenth century. The now personified century is entombed in the sky (“the cloudy canopy”), and the wind is its “death lament.” Lines 13–14 refer to the seeds of spring, which are now “shrunken hard and dry.” The description literally depicts what happens to seeds during winter, but figuratively the speaker implies that the very processes of nature are at a standstill and that the next spring might not come. In the last two lines, the speaker compares himself with “every spirit upon earth,” projecting his despondency onto the world.

Stanza 3
This stanza marks a break in the tone and action of the poem, as the speaker hears an old thrush break out in song. Thrushes are fairly common songbirds and usually have a brownish upper plumage and a spotted breast. “Evensong” means a song sung in the evening, significant here both for an “aged” bird and because it is the last day of a century. The image of the bird...

(The entire section is 502 words.)