A New Year’s coda: The darkling thrush

A New Year’s coda: The darkling thrush

I couldn’t have said it better than J.E. did in her mostly optimistic look forward. Therefore, I will use this occasion to look backward, to both the recent and distant past.

Each Dec. 31 over the past eight years, I have reflected somberly on the grim condition of the country I love and wondered if sanity would ever be restored. I had some help in my ruminations in the form of a poem written a long time ago by one of my favorite Englishman, Thomas Hardy.

That poem, “The Darkling Thrush,” was published on Dec. 29, 1900 — two days before the close of the nineteenth century. Like other Victorians, Hardy was uneasy about the years to come and expresses that angst in the poem when he speaks of “the Century’s corpse outleant.”

But something small and indescribable gave him a glimmer of hope that brighter days might lie ahead. In the poem, that intangible object is symbolized by “an aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small” with “blast-beruffled plume” that nevertheless sang out ecstatically against the frigid night air as though there was “some blessed Hope, whereof he knew And I was unaware.”

Over the past eight Dec. 31s, I have recited that poem quietly to myself in the hopes that I too would hear the darkling thrush’s song. That melody never came … until this year.

I’d like to share Hardy’s poem with you.

Have a blessed New Year, filled with goodness and light.

The Darkling Thrush

I leant upon a coppice gate
When Frost was spectre-grey,
And Winter’s dregs made desolate
The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
Had sought their household fires.

The land’s sharp features seemed to be
The Century’s corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
Seemed fervourless as I.

At once a voice arose among
The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
Upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings
Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
And I was unaware.

Howard Portnoy

Howard Portnoy

Howard Portnoy has written for The Blaze, HotAir, NewsBusters, Weasel Zippers, Conservative Firing Line, RedCounty, and New York’s Daily News. He has one published novel, Hot Rain, (G. P. Putnam’s Sons), and has been a guest on Radio Vice Online with Jim Vicevich, The Alana Burke Show, Smart Life with Dr. Gina, and The George Espenlaub Show.

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