The Darkling Thrush And Other Poems

Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardy (1840-1928), the writer of a half dozen well-regarded novels and The Darkling Thrush and considerable other poetry that is still admired, writes classic, metered and rhymed poetry that concentrates on nature, and especially on birds. My problem with it is that it has a subtly negative slant.  To wit, in his featured poem, The Darkling Thrush, he writes in pertinent part:

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.

At least he allows that the thrush may be aware of some reason for joy that Hardy has missed. In his Tess’s Lament, in a poetic tribute to his classic, gripping and tragic heroine of his still well-selling novel which grippingly recounts country life in the mid-1800's, Tess of The D’Urbervilles, he has his ill-fated heroine, Tess, give her last words lugubriously:

It wears me out to think of it, To think of it, I cannot bear my fate as writ, I’d have my life unbe; Would turn my memory to a blot, Make every relic of me rot, My doings be as they were not, And gone all trace of me!

His lovable Tess is so painfully real, in his novel, real to the point of desperation. Would that Hardy still lived and that we could convince him to lighten the end of the tale of Tess and afford us peaceful sleep. I loved his (Must Read) Tess of the Dubervilles but abhorred his brutal denouement of her saga.  His poems overuse the word “gloom” and generally offer us little relief:

There was a shade entombing All that was bright of me.

This sums up this poet of woe. His tributes to Nature can’t overcome his morose mood. It’s so sad. Hardy was a medical doctor, who practiced medicine largely for free, as he so lamented their depraved lot in life.  He surely saw much suffering and sadness that he could not cure and the hardships of human life in his day flow through the pores of his able prose.  He turned to writing to support his humble life style and to inspire someone to help the suffering that he could not.   Through Hardy, we learn much about life in the 19th Century and in admirable prose, as penned by one who loved mankind.