The Darkling Thrush

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  • Q1

    Describe some imageries which Hardy has used in his poem ‘The Darkling Thrush’, and what do they signify. Also, mention the figures of speech that have been used.

    Marks:20
    Answer:

    Thomas Hardy has used many imageries related to Nature in this poem. It speaks about the desolation and turmoil in people’s lives, and how everything is becoming mechanized. There’s no value for emotions, and everything is factual.

    The poem begins with the speaker leaning on a coppice gate. It is the winter season, and everything around him is “spectre-grey”, that is, grey as a ghost. Everything is covered in snow. It is gradually growing dark in “[t]he weakening eye of day”, which means that the sun is setting slowly. Here, the Sun is compared to an eye.

    Further on, he compares the “tangled bine-stems” to “strings of broken lyres”. The stems of plants have tangled up in a way that they look like strings of broken musical instruments, lyres in this case. It means that the environment around is dead, and has no joy or music in it.
    As it gets darker and colder, all the people return to the comfort of their homes. The poet describes humankind as “all mankind that haunted nigh”, which means that all people seem to have assumed a ghostly quality. They are devoid of emotions, and walk like lifeless creatures.
    Suddenly, a small thrush erupts out of nowhere and starts singing. It is
    “[a]n aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small”, and has “blast-beruffled plume” meaning disordered and untidy feathers. The thrush seems to be nearing death, but is still happy about something. The small bird chooses “to fling his soul [u]pon the growing gloom”. This line suggests that there is still hope for the situation to change.

    The poet has also used different figures of speech to enhance the lyrical quality of the poem. Some of them are-

    1. Alliteration: It is the repetition of consonant sounds, usually at the beginning of words. For example-

    “His crypt the cloudy canopy”

    In the above sentence the consonant ‘c’ has been repetitively used.

    2. Simile: It is a figure of speech which directly compares two different things. For example-


    “The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
    Like strings of broken lyres”

    3. Metaphor: In this, a comparison is done between two different things but the meaning is not directly stated, instead it is implied. For example-

    (a) “The weakening eye of day”- Here, the Sun is compared to an eye

    (b) “The Century’s corpse outleant”- The nineteenth century is compared to a corpse

    (c) “His crypt the cloudy canopy”- The clouds are compared to a burial ground

    (d) “Had chosen thus to fling his soul”- The singing of the bird is compared to flinging its soul.

    4. Personification: In this, non-human objects are attributed human-like qualities. For example-

    “The Century’s corpse”- Here, the nineteenth century has been assumed to be a dead body.

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  • Q2

    How does the poem give out a sense of dreariness during the nineteenth century?

    Marks:20
    Answer:

    The poem was written towards the end of the nineteenth century, by Thomas Hardy. It represents the hopelessness and chaos of its era. The Victorian age was marked by growing restlessness, ignorance, hopelessness, scientific progressions, and religious disbeliefs.

    The Englishmen carried out expeditions to turn ignorant people to Christianity, in order to civilize them. The working class in England suffered under the capitalists. On the one hand, the English society witnessed poverty-stricken people, and on the other, there were the rich people, who hoarded money.

    People worked in insanitary conditions day and night, until they ended up becoming invalids, or embraced death. There were unhappy marriages, and many children workedas chimney sweepers, who died or got burnt in the process. Writers like Charles Dickens, and Charlotte Bronte have appropriately portrayed this grim situation in their works.

    Thomas Hardy was apprehensive of the ways in which the Victorian society was functioning. He longed for the happy times to return. Industrialisation was replacing people, and Utilitarianism became the norm of the day. Increasing technology brought nothing but suffering. Hardy was in favour of agricultural practices that were followed before the advent of the industrial era. He wanted to return to the rural traditions.

    In the poem, the speaker, after experiencing all these situations, shares a feeling of loneliness in nature. The depression within him is reflected on to the environment around, in the form of winter landscape which looks like a corpse. The bine-stems are compared to strings of broken lyres, which mean that nature has completely lost its essence, and there’s no music in it to provide peace to lost souls.

    The whole humankind seems to be “fervourless”; they do not have the vigour to work and have lost the ability to love, cry, or be happy. Everything has become mechanized, and has turned into a living hell.

    Amidst this hopelessness, the speaker still holds on to the faith that probably they shall overcome all this, and things will change. This hope comes in the form of a thrush. It erupts all of a sudden from the darkness, and sings a joyful song, thereby sending the message that not all is lost.

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  • Q3

    Justify the title of the poem ‘The Darkling Thrush’.

    Marks:20
    Answer:

    The title of the poem ‘The Darkling Thrush’ has been appropriately chosen by the poet. The word “darkling” means growing darkness, while “thrush” is a bird that is grey or brown in colour, with a spotted body.The title can be a reference to the thrush arising out of the dark, and spreading hope around, through its song.

    The poem starts with the “weakening” of the Sun, which is about to set. The darkness all aroundis increasing both literally and metaphorically. It also refers to the darkness of ignorance, and the scientific progressions that have engulfed the era.

    The period in which the poet lived was characterized by growing industrialization, distrust in religion, and ignorance. The poet is apprehensive of the approaching time. He wants to relive the days when people were happy, and lived together.

    He seems to be living in a wasteland, where there’s no one he can share his sorrows with. All other people have gone to the comfort of their homes, as the night befalls. People have become mechanized characterized by lack of human emotions.

    The image of the tangled bine-stems being compared to the strings of broken lyres conveys the utter silence of the atmosphere.

    The speaker compares the features of the landscape to that of a corpse. He also describes the seeds which were fresh and full of vitality during the spring season, but are now shrunken and dry.

    The whole idea of the land and people being unproductive brings out a very gloomy picture. But out of this feeling of depression, there comes a little bird. It is probably the poet’s innermost desire for freedom from the shackles of ignorance and darkness, which is exhibited in the form of the thrush.

    The thrush sings a joyful melody, and the happiness starts spreading around. The poet capitalizes the ‘H’ in ‘Hope’, thereby referring to the three Christian virtues of hope, faith, and charity.

    Hence, we can say that the thrush arising out of darkness, to spread its joy around, is justified in the title ‘The Darkling Thrush’.

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  • Q4

    How has nature been portrayed in the poem ‘The Darkling Thrush’?

    Marks:20
    Answer:

    The poem presents a very bleak hope of the future. It starts with the speaker leaning on a gate, which opens into the woods. It is the winter season, and everything is cold and lifeless. The landscape seems to be “spectre-grey”, that is, grey as a ghost. As the day ends, and the sun sets, the landscape looks desolate, and it becomes colder.

    The poet then compares the “tangled bine-stems” to “strings of broken lyre”. The stems of shrubs are tangled together like the strings of a musical instrument. The speaker cannot find any happiness or music in the life around.

    All the people have gone inside to the comfort of their homes, while the speaker stands outside on the winter landscape and ponders on the barrenness.

    He compares the land to the sharp features of a dead body. Just like a corpse is cold and inactive, similarly the mankind and nature have become inactive. The winter wind seems to be singing a death-song, which is not at all pleasant.

    The seeds which sprung during the spring season have now become hard and dry. They have reduced in size, and are no more capable of bearing new life.

    All the activities of nature have come to a pause, and every spirit on earth is energy less.

    It is only when a small bird, a thrush comes into the picture that the speaker begins to talk of hope. It whole-heartedly sings a beautiful song. The bird, though old (probably it is nearing its death), is joyful, and spreads this joy onto the nature around it.

    However, the speaker cannot understand the reason behind the thrush’s joy. The speaker starts feeling hopeful of the future after listening to the bird’s song.

    In this poem, nature plays an active part in showcasing the sorrowful and mechanical lives that the people are living, in the nineteenth century. The growing industrialization, religious disbeliefs, and scientific progressions have done great harm to the society, according to the speaker. He longs for the world that has been left behind.

    Somehow, the thrush comes out of nowhere and adds that “Hope” (one of the three Christian virtues). It could also be said that the speaker believes that just like the bird erupts from the natural surroundings, similarly mankind can only survive when it returns to nature.

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