The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Darkling Thrush” is a thirty-two-line lyric poem in four stanzas of eight lines each. The first two stanzas provide the setting of the poem. Hardy’s poetic persona is standing at the edge of a “coppice,” a thicket of bushes or small trees. He surveys a desolate scene at the end of a winter day. He is alone in that “haunted night”; all the rest of humankind “had sought their household fires.” The second stanza continues the description and provides two important pieces of information. One concerns the time when the poem was written, December of 1900, which is always included in the printing of the poem. The words “the Century’s corpse” and “the ancient pulse of germ and birth” refer to the turn of the century. The other important information is about the poet’s state of mind. He is deeply depressed, stating that the dismal scene is “fervorless as I.”

These first two stanzas comprise line after line of lyrical description. Details pertaining to death (the bine-stems “like strings from broken lyres,” the “crypt,” the “death-lament,” the “ancient pulse” that is “shrunken hard and dry”) add up to a depressing total. The scene of icy, clear death images and the harsh, austere feeling are firmly set in the reader’s mind.

Now that the reader’s mood has been captured by the frosty, deathly winter scene, surrounded by images of the land’s and the century’s death, the third stanza opens...

(The entire section is 477 words.)

Historical Context

(Poetry for Students)

1900 and the British Empire
When Hardy wrote "The Darkling Thrush" in 1900, the British Empire had expanded to include...

(The entire section is 582 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Thomas Hardy is a transitional poet, a bridge between the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries, and between Romantic Victorian and modern thought. “The Darkling Thrush” is particularly apt as a transitional poem, since it was written on and for the turn of the century. There is a strong contrast between form and meaning in the poem, just as there is a contrast between the bleak despair of the scene and the unreasonable joy of the thrush’s song.

The form of the poem is traditional, of the nineteenth century, though the meaning is modern, of the twentieth. Hardy was sixty years old in 1900 and was technically competent in the meter and rhyme schemes that were already rooted in the past. The meter never varies from the da-dum da-dum of the basic English iambic tetrameter; the rhyme scheme is a perfect ababcdcd. While Hardy is sometimes criticized for lack of originality in this form, the effect of this controlled meter and rhyme scheme is remarkable in a poem about modern despair. The poet cannot control the chaos and decay around him, but he can control the form of the poem. The formal strictness of the verse is a bulwark against disorder.

At times the poet’s language seems to be dictated by the unvarying ballad-like form of the poem even more than by his search for meaning. Hardy coins “nonce words,” words invented for a single occasion, to fit the meter. “Blast-beruffled” is an example of a nonce word that is...

(The entire section is 594 words.)

Literary Style

(Poetry for Students)

Composed in four octet, or eight-line, stanzas, with an ABABCDCD rhyme scheme, “The Darkling Thrush” is...

(The entire section is 299 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Poetry for Students)

Compare the attitude of the speaker in Hardy’s poem towards the new century with your own attitude towards the beginning of the twentyfirst...

(The entire section is 290 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Poetry for Students)

In 1915, Laurence Trimble directed Far from the Madding Crowd for the English cinema.

Far from the...

(The entire section is 66 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Poetry for Students)

Richard D. Altick’s Victorian People and Ideas (1973) describes the social structure of Victorian England, with chapters on...

(The entire section is 175 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Poetry for Students)

Berger, Sheila, Thomas Hardy and Visual Structure: Framing, Disruption, Process, New York University...

(The entire section is 346 words.)