The Darkling Thrush" is a poem occasioned by the beginning of a new year and a new century. It is formally precise, comprised of four octaves with each stanza containing two quatrains in hymn measure. The movement of the first two stanzas is from observation of a winter landscape as perceived by an individual speaker to a terrible vision of the death of an era that the landscape seems to disclose. The action is in how the apprehension of this particular moment of seeing changes as the emotional impact of the scene solidifies.
I leant upon a coppice gate
When Frost was spectre-gray,
And Winter's dregs made desolate
The weakening eye of day.
The diction is simple and direct, and the tone is the quiet voice of private conversation. The spectral quality of frost is accurate and unforced suggesting a hoary coating, age, and the ghostly quality literal in its Latin root "spectrum", which means appearance or image. The landscape is an "appearance" we are seeing through the eyes of a subjective perceiver. The phenomena of frost are precisely represented but it also coincides with the psychological state of the speaker which becomes evident as the poem develops. Whether he was leaning on the gate at the edge of a wooded grove in casual observation or from fatigue, a sense of oppressiveness is underscored by consonance. The sluggish weight of "Winter's dregs" picks up and compounds the effect of "spectre-gray" which, in turn, leads into an effect of exhalation in "desolate." The word "dregs" with its strong stress and combination of a hard consonant with a sibiliant in "gs" forces a caesura, and then desolate trails off from its strong stress. "DE solate" when spoken as normal speech lengthens its duration in a falling cadence in comparison to "COPpice GATE" even though it maintains regularity metrically. Although the line is enjambed, the tongue requires a little adjusting, and another slowing down...