I leant upon a coppice gate
When Frost was spectre-gray,
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.
The bird, according to J. O. Bailey, is likely "a missel-thrush, which which sings cheerfully in winter" (166).
First published in the London Graphic on 29 December 1900 as "By the Century's Deathbed." Republished in Poems of The Past and The Present: "Miscellaneous Poems" (London: Macmillan, 1902). Checked against The Works of Thomas Hardy (Ware, Hertfordshire: Wordsworth, 1994), p. 137.
See Charles Lock, "'The Darkling Thrush' and the Habit of Singing," Essays in Criticism 36, 2 (April 1986): 121-41. Although "The Darkling Thrush" had always been the intended title, the manuscript has"1899" scratched out and "1900" inserted. [PVA].
Last modified 9 November 2004;
Thanks to Amy Jamgochian, UC Berkeley, for pointing out a bad link.