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 terrestial 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.

 --Thomas Hardy

I remember when I first encountered this poem in my first-year english class. It intrigued me, but I couldn't really make anything of it. Eventually I had to write an essay on it and I realized why it had interested me.

Now, before I continue, I want to clarify something. The word "punk" is very poorly defined and, due to its incorporation as the latest brand-name, encompasses a lot of different things. What I speak of here is what the core of punk is to me.

I think The Darkling Thrush is about punk philosophy. The idea of punk springs from the conception that the world is hopelessly corrupt, tarnished, dirty, and irredemably meaningless. This is a fairly obvious parallel to the first two stanzas of the poem.

Punk then, is an acceptance of this wasted world and a "so be it" attitude. The world may be lost, but that's no reason not to live your life in a way that is meaningful to you. The Thrushs enthusiasm and courage represent the creation of beauty for its own sake, despite its actual meaninglessness.

Thomas Hardy's poem "The Darkling Thrush" employs the diction and imagery of a desolate but faintly wistful world in order to create an atmosphere and meaning of hope among despair.

The first two stanzas of the poem describe a world of desolation, dying in the winter. Diction such as "frost," "spectre-gray," "desolate," "scored," "shrunken," "corpse," and "feverless" create this atmosphere. "Frost" implies a frozen and inhospitable landscape, unfriendly to any who might desire to traverse its cold fields. "Spectre-gray" calls to mind the ghost-like lack of color associated with a dying world. When something is "desolate," it is barren, devoid of life. "Scored"--wounding--is another word with harsh connotations. "Shrunken" and "corpse" are words synonymous with the decay of death. Finally, "feverless" is telling of the ennui of this world; as it approaches death, it and all its inhabitants enter a deadly state of torpor.

Likewise, the imagery of these first two stanzas creates a world of the dying. The personified season, Winter, whose "dregs made desolate" the sun, called in metaphor the "weakening eye of day," (again a reference to aging) is a destructive force. Its frost moves like a ghost over the land, sending "all mankind" away from nature and into their sheltering homes. The Century acquires a "corpse outleant" as it, too, becomes a dead thing. Even the "ancient pulse of germ and birth," the timeless cycle of life and death, is approaching an end, "shrunken hard and dry."

The second two stanzas of the poem are slightly less despairing. Here, diction such as "full-hearted," "plume," "fling," "ecstatic," "blessed," and "Hope" becomes important. "Full-hearted" reveals a creature putting everything he has into as task; "plume" is indicative of pride; the verb "fling" is opposite to "feverless" in that it implies an action almost desperate in its momentum. "Ecstatic" describes the ultimate rapture while "blessed" intimates the divine. Finally, "Hope" is the most important word in the work. It is the opposite of despair; it is a desire for the better, the last remnant of Pandora's box. It can defeat all the evils of the world, even death, if only it perseveres.

The image of the thrush--symbolic of the hope for new life--is the most important of the poem. Although it is "aged," "frail, gaunt, and small," it is still capable of hope, even in the bleak winter. Described as having "chosen thus to fling his soul/Upon the growing gloom," he becomes a metonymy for all nature that struggles and survives the dark despair of winter.

Hardy's poem is a work about the hope for resurrection. Even as the world moves towards death, something as ethereal as a bird's song can contain hope for spring within it. In his world, the human can be educated by nature's constant wishing for rebirth.

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