07 January 2009

At once a voice

Thomas Hardy's New Year's elegy, "The Darkling Thrush" (dated December 31, 1900, the last night of the nineteenth century) can be misread as a "ray of hope" kind of poem, and often is, if I may take my high school experience as representative.

On the contrary, I now (ever since an Oxford trimester during which I read every single one of Hardy's 900-some-odd poems, a depressing undertaking if there ever was one) understand it as a very bleak indictment of the past and a less than hopeful vision of the future. If there is hope, Hardy says, I can't see it. In this view, the trilling of the little bird is naïve, a kind of whistling into the void.

Given my mood right now, I'm not surprised that it's the poem that came to mind. But don't take Hardy's perspective as an accurate indication of what I anticipate for this coming year.

I side with the bird.


The Darkling Thrush

I leant upon a coppice gate
When Frost was spectre-gray,
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.

1 comment:

Amanda said...

Thanks for sharing this, it suits me today as well, when DC is bleak and rainy and everyone seems to have the post-holiday blues...

And of course you would side with the bird. :) I choose to as well.