The Darkling Thrush Critical Overview
by Thomas Hardy

The Darkling Thrush book cover
Start Your Free Trial

Download The Darkling Thrush Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Critical Overview

(Poetry for Students)

On the whole, critics have been kind to "The Darkling Thrush," praising both its subject matter and its form. It is one of Hardy's most written-about poems. Richard Carpenter, for example, in his study of Hardy and his work, Thomas Hardy, writes, "[The poem] is sharp and clear in its images, harsh and austere in its feelings, done in Hardy's most characteristic manner." In his essay "Thomas Hardy: Moments of Vision," Geoffrey Harvey calls "The Darkling Thrush" a poem of the highest imaginative order," noting that the speaker mourns God's death as much as the death of nature. Sheila Berger, in her study Thomas Hardy and Visual Structures, makes a link between what the speaker physically sees and the thematic vision of the poem. "There is a question in the air," Berger writes, "as there is in much of the poetry." Dennis Taylor reads the poem in the tradition of other "bird poems," including Keats' s "Ode to a Nightengale," Shelley's "To a Skylark," and numerous poems by William Wordsworth. Taylor writes, "'The Darkling Thrush' . . . announces itself as the last nineteenth-century revision of the great tradition." David Perkins also notes the poem's relation to other bird poems of the nineteenth century, specifically that all of the birds are symbolic of the visionary imagination. In his essay for English Literary History, Perkins claims that Hardy's thrush, however, is a "more complicated— symbolic reference . . . with the implication that there is no hope of closing the gap between the speaker and bird."