OUTPACE Uncategorized Critical Analysis of THE DARKLING THRUSH BY Thomas Hardy || ISC CLASS 11 AND 12 ENGLISH LITERATURE ||



Thomas Hardy is one of the most distinguished English writers of all time. One of the most prolific poets and novelists in history, Thomas was born on June 2, 1840, in the English village of Higher Bockhampton, Dorset, England. His youth was impacted by the musicality of his father, Thomas Hardy sr., who was a stonemason and builder, and his mother Jemima Hand Hardy who passed on her love of reading and books to Hardy. His primary education lasted until the age of seventeen. Because of the financial crunch in his family, he was apprenticed as an architect to James Hicks. His rural background, his love for music, and his apprenticeship as an architect influenced his subject matter and form of his writings.

He wrote numerous novels, which reflect the social and moral concerns of the Victorian Era. His first prose appeared in 1865. his first novel Desperate Remedies was published in 1870. His notable works are Tess of  D’Urbervilles, Judge the obscure, The Return of the Native (1878), The Mayor of the Casterbridge (1886)and others ascertained Hardy as a formidable writer. His first volume of the poem was Wessex Poems(1898), a compilation written over 30 years. Furthermore, Hardy’s poems of war(based on the Boer War and World War I) spoke eloquently against some of the horrors of the war, such poems include works as Drummer Hodge and In the Time of The Breaking of Nations. Best known for his expression of love, nature imagery, the solemnity of feelings and intricately built structure.

In 1910, Thomas Hardy was bestowed the Order of Merit. Leaving all these legacy behind, Hardy breathed his last on 11 January 1928.



The Darkling Thrush is one of Hardy’s best poems. The hymn-like metre blends with the Keatsian image of the thrush to produce one of Hardy’s most lyrical poems. The poem was originally published on 29th December 1900,  under the title “ The Century’s End 1900 ” in The Graphic. Here, he describes the cessation of the old world at the turn of the century focussing on the end of the 19th century and the onset of the 20th century. A bleak picture of despair and dullness is portrayed in the lyrical style of the poem.

The conditions of the present desolate vacuum could be traced with the prevailing Industrial Revolution and the changes it brought about in society, polity, economy and religious beliefs. The poet is deeply sorrowful of this decaying condition. Suddenly, a bird ( the thrush) appears and hid singing fills the air with a new ray of hope. The poet finds his soul rising and with it the realisation that there is still some prospect in the world.

The Darkling Thrush becomes a substantial poem which does not just project the perception and feelings of one individual but is a representative of the mood of an age.



The poem

I leant upon a coppice gate

When Frost was spectre-grey,

And Winter’s dregs made desolate

The weakening eye of day.

The tangled bine-stems scored the sky

Like strings of broken lyres,

And all mankind that haunted nigh

Had sought their household fires.


The land’s sharp features seemed to be

The Century’s corpse outleant,

His crypt the cloudy canopy,

The wind his death-lament.

The ancient pulse of germ and birth

Was shrunken hard and dry,

And every spirit upon earth

Seemed fervourless as I.


At once a voice arose among

The bleak twigs overhead

In a full-hearted evensong

Of joy illimited;

An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,

In blast-beruffled plume,

Had chosen thus to fling his soul

Upon the growing gloom.


So little cause for carolings

Of such ecstatic sound

Was written on terrestrial things

Afar or nigh around,

That I could think there trembled through

His happy good-night air

Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew

And I was unaware.

The Darkling Thrush is a meditative lyric poem comprising of four eight lined stanzas, with a rhyme scheme of ABABCDCD. It is written in iambic tetrameter. The lines one, three, five and seven have four stressed syllables, whereas lines four, six and eight carrying three stressed syllables. The poet chose to bring symmetry in the poem as is evidenced by the simple structure of the poem. Poet has neatly allocated 4  stanzas to 2 parts, firstly, the dark winter evening, then the thrush. Each stanza is an octet – consisting of 8 lines each. We find several self-coined words of Hardy in this poem like–outleant, blast-beruffled,  spectre-grey providing the ordered rhythm to the poem. Such self-coined words which are not prevalent in English are termed as nonce words.

The tone of the poem, in the beginning, is one of doubt and surprise amazement as could be sensed from the lines “At once a voice arose among / The bleak twigs overhead / In a full-hearted evensong / Of joy illimited; / An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small”. The tone surprisingly changes at the end when a ray of hope and gleams in the air and mood is changed from that of astonishment to a perplexed reflection regarding the unsolved mysteries of life as can be found in the lines “ Some blessed Hope, / whereof he knew / And I was unaware”.


The poem has the following poetic devices:-

1.    Simile– A figure of speech in which a likeness between two different things is stated in an explicit way, using as or like.

·       The tangled bine-stems scored the sky

    Like strings of broken lyres

2.    Personification

·       Frost has been treated as a ghost.

·       The Century, like a human being dies and has its dead body ready for the burial.

·       The thrush is not a mere bird, it has  ‘his soul’ and he has his ‘ happy good- night song’.

3.    Alliteration– It is the close repetition of the consonant sounds.

·       The tangled bine-steams scored the sky

·       Had sought their household fires.

·       His crypt the cloudy canopy

4.    Metaphor – It is a figure of speech in which comparison between two different things is implied, but not clearly stated.

·       The weakening eye of the day — comparison of the setting sun.

·       His crypt the cloudy canopy— Comparison of cloud cover to the tomb.

·       Frost as ‘ spectre- grey’(a pale, dull ghost-like).


5.    Assonance- “At once a voice arose among.”


Nature and the Decline of Human Civilization  The Darkling Thrush seems to be a poem about a winter landscape, which is described in substantial detail in the poem. Symbolically, this landscape is an extended metaphor: its bleakness and breakdown is attributed to the times of Western Culture in the era of the 19th century. The narrator describes the atmosphere in a desolate tone, with minimal possibility of rebirth or revitalization. In this sense, the poem can be termed as an elegy for or of the Western world which has failed in taking care of its own social and economical resources.

At the outset, the speaker describes himself as standing at the entrance of a gate  “leading to a coppice”. Then the speaker compares the “tangled-bine stems” to the “strings of broken lyres”– “lyres” derives an important fact that the western accomplishments of culture have now become severed. The flourishing western culture is now broken like the strings of  “ broken lyres” and is entangled and badly maintained like the “ tangled-bine stems”. The poet has given an implied contrast between the warmth of the household fires and the cold and loneliness of the speaker.

The second stanza develops on the idea, with several metaphors that the landscape is now reduced to a corpse. This is an embodiment of the death of the 19th century and its culture. A comparison is laid between the landscape’s “sharp features” to “ The Century’s corpse”. The century has declined not only in the literary sense but also in the cultural perspective. Since nothing is thriving, the fields are barren and frost is covering everything. The poet has expanded the image further by comparing the “ cloudy canopy” to a tomb and the wind’s sound to that of a “ death lament”. The seeds of germ and birth are shrunken hard and dry. Hardy has deromanticised nature by taking away even the capability to mature.

These conditions could have existed because of the Industrial Revolution which led the farms being converted to factories. There are no remedies inferred by the poet to address the present problem. Hardy’s speaker, however, finds no life in nature. Even the thrush which is supposed to give a glint of hope is aged and on its last song. Thus, the theme of nature and the decline of human civilization is widely prevalent in the poem where dismay is emphasized more than the joy.

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