I leant upon a coppice gate
When Frost was spectre-grey,
And Winter’s dregs made desolate
The weakening eye of day.
The first four opening lines of the poem sets
the poem’s form and the foremost theme. The dominant “I” gives an
individualistic perception of the humdrum of life.
The poem opens with the speaker leaning by
the “ coppice gate” at the “ dregs” of the winter day. The atmosphere in the speaker’s
mind us “ desolate”, provoking a sense of despair. Here, he uses the metaphor
of Frost and has compared that to as “sceptre-grey” –a ghost or spirit.
Similarly, the metaphor of “eye of day” refers to the setting of the sun. A
sense of gloominess is hinted as there is no clue to the rise of the sun. The
prevailing mood is thus one of decay without a glimpse of renewal.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
Had sought their household fires.
The tangled stems are a reminder of summer.
Since the strings of the musical lyre is broken, there is no sweet melody of
summer but only the desolate and frosty winter. This broken lyre emphasizes the
absence of harmony, indirectly referring to the loss of hope from one’s life.
The last two lines have presented a
contrasting fact as to how the whole of mankind is inside there warm household
but only the speaker is standing outside in a barren land on a frosty night. This, in these lines, the earth appears estranged,
colourless and a place where no melody persists.
The land’s sharp features seemed to be
The Century’s corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
The wind his death-lament.
The second intensifies the gloominess of the poem.
The poet further delves into the isolate trance and connect the landscape
around him to the days gone by. Here, the poet has used the metaphor of landscape’s
“sharp features” and compared it with “ The Century’s corpse”, the corpse of
the dying 19th century. The cloudy canopy of the sky seems as the tomb of the death century and the wind its death song.
The speaker then feels that owing to extreme cold the rhythm of conception and births
slowed down considerably. Every living creature, including the speaker, is
bereft of zest and enthusiasm.
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;
Through this gloom evening, a voice aroused
from some “bleak twigs” which broke to a loud heartfelt voice of endless joy.
Hardy makes masterly use of the element of suspense by beginning the stanza
with “ At once..”. This is a sharp contrast with the first two stanzas of
melancholy and hopelessness. Furthermore, what is to be noted here is that the
speaker solicits the reader’s interest to both the song and the singer.
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
Upon the growing gloom.
The suspense which developed in the first part is now disclosed as
we find that soulful “evensong” is that on an old “beruffled” thrush. We aren’t
told that it is a young, strong thrush but rather a “frail, gaunt, small,
blast- beruffled” bird which is in a perishable situation. This frailty can be
because of the winter which left no food to eat rather has left his wings blasted.
fact that this pitiable soul has chosen to sing in such a state sets forth an
optimistic note which has sprouted hope.
word “blast-beruffled” is invented by Hardy himself. There are several
instances of such use of words to fit the purpose. Such words include “darkling”,
“spectre-grey”, “outlent” etc. “Darkling” is by far the most famous word among
Victorian poets. We find its use in Mathew Arnold’s Dover Beach, Keats’s
Ode to a Nightingale and others.
So little cause for carolings
Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
Afar or nigh around,
The last stanza is full of the spirit if life
and hope. But the speaker is astonished at the fact that what “terrestrial
things” on the earth could make the bird sing so earnestly. There is the interplay of hope and despair
vis-à-vis that of the human subject. Though there is such “little cause” for
happiness yet the bird makes its “ecstatic sound”.
That I could think there trembled through
His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
And I was unaware.