Type of Work and Publication Years......."The Darkling Thrush" is a lyric poem with four eight-line stanzas. The Graphic, a weekly newspaper, first published the poem on December 29, 1900, under the title "By Century's Deathbed," according to The Evil Image: Two Centuries of Gothic Short Fiction and Poetry, edited by Patricia L. Skarda and Nora Crow Jaffe (New York: New American Library, 1981). An article posted on the web site of the Guardian, a London newspaper, under its Books Blog maintains that the poem was written in 1899 and originally entitled "The Century's End, 1900." The London Times republished the poem on January 1, 1901. In London later that year, Macmillan published the poem in the second volume of Poems of the Past and Present: "Miscellaneous Poems."
Background and Title Information
.......Thomas Hardy wrote "The Darkling Thrush" to express his feelings about the world when it was about to enter the twentieth century. The title refers to a thrush, such as a robin, in darkness (darkling).
.......When the frost was ghostly gray and the depressing winter landscape made the setting sun seem lonely and abandoned, the speaker leaned on a gate before a thicket of small trees. Twining plants, rising high, were silhouetted against the sky like the strings of broken lyres. All the people who lived nearby were inside their homes, gathered around their household fires. The countryside looked like a corpse. The cloudy sky was the roof of the corpse's crypt, the speaker says, and the wind its song of death. The cycle of birth and rebirth seemed to have shrunken and dried up, like the spirit of the speaker.
.......But then he heard the joyful song of a bird—a frail old thrush—coming from scrawny branches overhead. The song was a jubilant outpouring against the evening gloom. The dreary landscape gave the thrush no reason to sing with such overflowing happiness. The speaker wondered whether the bird was a harbinger of some hope of which he was unaware.
.......Thomas Hardy expressed gloomy and fatalistic views of events in most of his writing. It is not surprising, then, that he uses a bleak winter landscape to symbolize the passing of the nineteenth century, which the poem calls a "corpse" (line 10) in a "crypt" (line 11).
.......When Hardy wrote "The Darkling Thrush" on the threshold of the twentieth century, he himself was making a transition—from writing novels to writing poetry exclusively. The motivation for the change was the negative public reception of two of his novels, Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1891) and Jude the Obscure (1895). Their frank depictions of morally taboo subjects outraged readers. A friend of Hardy—novelist George Gissing (1857-1903)—called the 1895 novel Jude the Obscene (Whitney). So Hardy had reason to be gloomy. But would the public accept his poetry? And would the new century improve on the old?
.......Hardy offers a glimmer of hope, expressed in the joyous song of the bird.
.......Incidentally, Tess and Jude the Obscure are widely read and admired today. And his poetry generally has received high praise.