Extended commentary of 'The Darkling Thrush' by Thomas Hardy

Authors Avatar by abuelgasim (student)

The Darkling Thrush

On the title: A thrush is a bird; plump, soft-plumaged, small to medium-sized, often inhabiting wooded areas. They feed on the ground or eat small fruit – but aren’t famed for their songs. Examples include a robin. ‘Darkling’ is an archaic word for ‘a creature of darkness’ or ‘in the dark’. Hardy uses it in its latter sense – the bird appears in a very gloomy scene, at the end of the day, at the end of the year (and century, for that matter). It also has negative connotations as well, however – for obvious reasons.

Potential other implications: ‘darkling’ is perhaps used to create a diminutive form of the thrush (like a ‘duckling’). Other critics have identified the title as explaining, or preparing the reader for the unexpected advent of the bird half way through the poem, appearing into the scene from nowhere. Perhaps Hardy was attempting to use an antiquitated word to further demonstrate the bird is bringing joy to a dark land, and that there exists an enormous time difference between the new century and the old?

Overall Structure: Hardy uses four regular eight line iambic stanzas; in either ‘tetrameter’ or ‘trimeter’, depending on the length of the line. This meter creates a poetic lilt, with alternate stressed feet. It seems very out of place in such a depressing poem - we must question why this is. Does it reflect the hope expressed at the end of the poem, or prepares us for it? Or does it tell of an oddity within the persona; is his negative manner actually genuine – perhaps we shouldn't accept the persona’s judgment/emotions to the same extent as he'd like us to? His choice of rhyme scheme and meter along with the harsh subject fail to match up.

Themes: Time (passing of century), Isolation, Man and the Natural World.

Difficult Language Notes: ‘Darkling’ – discussed above. ‘Illimited’ is an archaic form of ‘unlimited’.

First and Second Stanza Notes: As usual, Hardy presents us with an image, this time of a landscape – a depressing one, at that. This poem was published at the end of the century – 31st December 1900 (Hardy was one of those people who believe that a century is complete when the hundredth year is over.) It is very cold and frosty and the day is growing to a close. It really is the end of a century.

Join now!

And Hardy presents us with a very clear image of death – he later personifies the Century itself as being dead. The first two stanzas are full of death-language:

  1. “When Frost was spectre-gray”. A clear example of ghost imagery (‘a spectre’). This line is of interest on its own, due to the obvious personification of ‘Frost’. This is a good place to make a key note about the poem itself. Throughout, we discover a distinct Hardy-esque style; the environment is unpleasant and it demonstrates his usual antics in animism. Hardy develops complex (and often deeply personal) symbolic ...

This is a preview of the whole essay