Illustration of a dark blue songbird in a tree on barren-looking land, but the bird appears to be thinking about blue sky and green tundra

The Darkling Thrush

by Thomas Hardy

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How does "The Darkling Thrush" portray Hardy as a nature poet?

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As a Naturalist, Thomas Hardy employs nature to convey both mood for his works and to convey the Naturalistic indifference of the universe.  For instance, his poem entitled "Neutral Tones" he and his love stand by a pond on a winter day, a pond "edged with grayish leaves," that reflects the tone of this poem.  This dismal tone underscores the remembrances of the speaker about his former love as their relationship ended:  "The smile on your mouth was the deadest thing."  With the sun described as "as thou chidden of God" and the "starving sod," nature conveys the dismal mood of the speaker.

In his poem "The Darkling Thrush," Hardy writes that

The land's sharp features seemed to be

The Century's corpse outleant,

His crypt the coudy canopy,

The wind his death-lament.

But, just when the speaker believes that nature shares his mood, a darkling thrush appears and sings

His happy good-night air

Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew

And I was unaware.

So, it really is an indifferent universe that, in its caprice that the speaker does not understand, has a cheerful song.




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Thomas Hardy shows many attributes of the typical English Nature poet in his poem "The Darkling Thrush." He encapsulates reflection, worries and concerns about Man and his place in the world by alluding to the natural world. The late Victorians worried about political rumblings in Europe and the changing social order, so Thomas Hardy uses sombre and slightly depressing images ithe poem, such as the words "darkling" and "spectre-grey." The mood and tone are also very subdued and almost sorrowful evoking an idea of the dying of the century as compared to the dying of the English year in Nature - the colors are grey and brown like a speckled thrush. Thomas Hardy himself was probably thinking of the senior years of his life ahead as he wrote the poem in his sixties - he also had sad bereavements and tragedies to deal with.

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How does Hardy create a natural scene in the poem "The Darkling Thrush?" 

The speaker leans on a gate opening into the woods. The season is winter and the atmosphere and climate are a "spectre-grey." There is a grey color, possibly to the sky and the frost itself, and it haunts (specter) the landscape. The speaker adds that the weakest (or bleakest) parts of winter (the dregs) make the day desolate as it turns to dusk. This is clearly a cold, bleak, depressing scene. The stems of the bushes are tangled like the broken strings of lyres. That simile here shows that the plant life (shrubs) is also desolate and dissonant in comparison with the mangled music of the lyre. Given this bleak external world, most people seek the comfort of their fireplaces indoors. 

This poem was published in December, 1900. In the second stanza, the speaker notes that the landscape is like the corpse of the previous century. The cloudy sky is the century's tomb and the wind sounds its funereal song. This is an example of the pathetic fallacy wherein the landscape's bleak features match the speaker's bleak outlook on the death of the previous century and the bleak future. 

The thrush, similarly bleak in appearance ("frail" and "gaunt") actually sings with joy amidst this barren and depressing landscape. The thrush seems to sing with hope. The speaker can not quite understand what the hope stems from. The previous century is dead and the speaker only sees a bleak future. The thrush provide at least the possibility of hope. 

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