Darkling Thrush Essay Research Paper Analysis of

Darkling Thrush Essay, Research Paper

Analysis of ?The Darkling Thrush?, by Thomas Hardy

As the title has already mentioned, this assignment will be an analysis on a poem by Thomas Hardy. The poem is called ?The Darkling Thrush?, also known by another title, ?By the Century?s deathbed?. My analysis will include elements such as the poems? setting, structure, imagery, diction, rhyme scheme and theme. I will go into one element at the time, and them give examples from one stanza only in that element. I will not come back to the same elements in the other stanzas, even though they are there. Therefore, this will not be a complete analysis of every element in each of the stanzas. I?d rather prefer to give a thorough description of what the different elements are and then give a few examples of each of them. In then end I will try to come up with a conclusion.


The poem takes place on New Years Eve, the last day of the 19th century. It?s also the end of the Victorian Age. Winter is bringing death and desolation with it. A tired old man leans over a coppice gate in a desolate area, seeing ghosts of the past and little hope in the future.


This poem has 4 stanzas, each with 8 lines. This is what we call an octave. The lines changes between having 4 and 3 stressed syllables in them, which is called tetrameter (4) and trimeter (3). Since the lines also follow a form of having one unstressed syllable followed by one stressed syllable etc, we also call it iambic.

As an example I use the poems 1st stanza. Line number 1, 3, 5 and 7 each have 4 stressed syllables, therefore called iambic tetrameter ( / – / – / – / – ). Line number 2, 4, 6, and 8 each have 3 stressed syllables, therefore called iambic trimeter ( / – / – / – )

I leant upon a coppice gate1

Where Frost was spectre-gray,2

And Winter?s dregs made desolate3

The weakening eye of day.4

The tangled bine-stems scored the sky5

Like strings of broken lyres,6

And all mankind that haunted nigh7

Had sought their household fires.8


Through the use of personification, symbols, metaphors, alliteration (this last element may also refer to the poems structure) and a selected sort of words, he produces images in the readers mind, when all he really does is just speak from his inner state of mind, as modernists are soon to do.

To show the use of imagery in this poem, I?ve taken its 2nd stanza as an example. Here he uses personification on the landscape, thereby referring to an inanimate object as if it were human. He compares the landscape to a dead body lying all around him, and the clouds becoming the coffins top, and the wind his death lament.

The poet also makes use of alliteration in this poem. An example from this stanza is corpse, crypt, cloudy, canopy etc, where you easily notice the same sounds repeated several times. This has mostly a decorative effect, but it also makes you focus on these words, thereby revealing parts of the poem?s nature and temperament.

The land?s sharp features seemed to be1

The Century?s corpse outleant, 2

His crypt the cloudy canopy,3

The wind his death-lament. 4

The ancient pulse of germ and birth5

Was shrunken hard and dry, 6

And every spirit upon earth7

Seemed fervourless as I. 8


The choice of words in this poem has been carefully selected, leaving little to coincidence. If you look carefully, you notice him using lots of negatively loaded words such as grey, desolate, broken, haunted etc. He himself is all alone out in the cold with all his negatively loaded words. But this changes further on in the poem.

In stanza number 3 you will notice a change in the poets use of diction. In stead of keeping mainly to negatively loaded words, he suddenly makes use of positively loaded words too. Words like frail, aged, gaunt and small still remains, but you also get words like evensong, full-hearted and joy illimited. This change in diction shows the reader that something new has occurred in the poem. A song-bird has entered, spreading warmth and hope into an earlier desolate and dead landscape.

Another thing to bear in mind (in a more of a general matter concerning his poems) as you read Hardy?s poems, is that he chooses to avoid following a ?jewelled line?. He doesn?t care for writing just pretty poetry. He breaks with conventions concerning the normal use of language.

At once a voice arose among1

The bleak twigs overhead2

In a full-hearted evensong3

Of joy illimited;4

An aged thrush frail, gaunt and small5

In blast-beruffled plume,6

Had chosen thus to fling his soul7

Upon the growing gloom.8

Rhyme scheme:

As you read it through, you easily find its rhyme scheme to be regular. There is only one irregularity in it, and this always means that it?s put there on purpose, and that it has a special meaning. He operates with end-rhyme, but both in masculine and feminine endings.


The major theme is introduced in the poems 3rd stanza, in the appearance of a song-bird. It is probably supposed to resemble ?hope?, and that things are not quite over yet although it may seem so. Like winter always brings death along with it, the coming of autumn restores some of it to life once more. Although things may look pretty negative right now, don?t give in to it, life will return sometime, even though you are not aware of it yourself.

This theme can be seen as a kind of reflection on the time Thomas Hardy lived. It was the end of an era, and end of a Period and almost the end of a Queen. And when a new Period is called for, it?s often a reaction to the old one. Now was the time for a reaction. Things looked dark and not so promising. People didn?t know what hope there lay in the future, but as this poem says, there may be hope coming although you don?t know of its coming.

In the poems last stanza, the man revealing his thoughts to us sees a glimpse of hope, as the song-bird colours the air with its singing. There may be hope after all. Is it the spring coming once more? Or are his ?Demi-Gods? just playing with him?

So little cause for carolings 1

Of such ecstatic sounds 2

Was written on terrestial things3

Afar or nigh around,4

That I could think there trembled through5

His happy good-night air6

Some blessed Hope whereof he knew7

And I was unaware.8


If you?ve followed me through these 5 pages, you will probably not only feel that your understanding of the poem is enhanced, but also your understanding of poems in general. I?ve tried to guide you through some of the main elements of poetry, giving a brief explanation as to what they are and how to find them. Because I?ve chosen to spend so much time on this, I didn?t use them all in each and every stanza. But now that you have it in front of you, why not try to look for signs of the different elements in the other stanzas?

If I were to give my own opinion of this poem, then I think I like the other title of the poem better. It is more fitting, considering the context around the writer at the time. You are in the last day of the 19th century, the queen is breathing her last few breaths, and so is the Victorian era. Awaiting just around the corner is a completely new era, a new king, and an entirely new Period entirely different from the Victorian.

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