The Darkling Thrush

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Thomas Hardy's gloomy poem about the turn of the twentieth century, "The Darkling Thrush," remains one of his most popular and anthologized lyrics. Written on the eve of the new century and first published in Graphic with the subtitle "By the Century's Deathbed" and then published in London Times on New Year's Day, 1901, the thirty-twoline poem uses a bleak and wintry landscape as a metaphor for the close of the nineteenth century and the joyful song of a solitary thrush as a symbolic image of the dawning century. Like much of Hardy's writing, "The Darkling Thrush" embodies the writer's despair and pessimism. This is partially offset, however, by the artfulness of the poem itself. Hardy was sixty years old when he penned the lyric, far past the life expectancy for a man of his time. A few years earlier he had stopped writing novels, after critics panned Jude the Obscure, and turned to writing poetry exclusively. "The Darkling Thrush" is included in his second volume of verse, Poems of the Past and the Present (1901), in the section "Miscellaneous Poems," sandwiched between "The Last Chrysanthemum" and "The Comet at Yell'ham," two other bleak poems of nature. Harper & Brothers published Poems of the Past and the Present in an edition of one thousand copies, and a few months later a second edition was published in an edition of five hundred copies. The poem also frequently appears in poetry anthologies such as The Norton Anthology of Poetry because it is a transitional poem, illustrating the trepidation and doubt many people felt about the future as the Victorian era came to an end and the modern era was about to begin.
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