The Darkling Thrush: Poetic Devices

Primarily speaking of his philosophical outlook, Thomas Hardy was a man of intensity, and his poems are a reflection of that vehement personality. He is perhaps better known as a novelist, but his poems have been described as musical, powerful, and often mournful. The poem, The Darkling Thrush, is an honest example of his classic style. Through the bleakness of the landscape, the narrator muses over the problems of mortal life on the eve of the century’s finale. In this poem, we can observe the poet’s preoccupation with time, change, and remorse.
The poem was first published in The Graphic on 29 December 1900 and was originally titled “The Century’s End 1900”. The poem unfurls on closure and is a dark yet hopeful meditation on how death precludes birth, and the cycle is never broken. It is also haunting scrutiny of Victorian society and its intellectual progress contrasted by its socio-cultural failings.  The poet experimented with meter and stanza forms producing a huge variety of verses. He also used colloquial language in his literary works, which was partly inspired by fellow Dorset poet William Barnes.
Thomas Hardy was more a poet than an architect or even a novelist, and this can be traced from the lyrical splendor of his poems. For Hardy, visions of his mind depicted in naked form would be abstruse, and therefore he turned to symbols, allegories, and metaphors that could materialize his abstract visions. The literary devices helped Hardy connect the natural world around him to his own deeper philosophies. The poet recognizes and realizes the extent to which men live in a world of their own mind’s creation. The miseries and hardships of mankind that darken the skies and bring death like “winter” are really his own inner turmoil sees reflected in nature around him. The simple difference in attitude between the narrator of the poem and the thrush bird in the same dark setting relates this thought clearly.

The Darkling Thrush: Poetic Devices

  • If taken in an expansive sense, a symbol may pertain to any particular thing which signifies something else, but in the scope of literature, the term Symbolism is applied only to a phrase or a word that represents an event or an object which in its turn signifies something, or suggests a range of reference, beyond itself. Hardy has made essential use of symbolism in this poem, for example, in the lines – The land’s sharp features seemed to be /  The Century’s corpse outlet”  The poem was written at the end of the eighteenth century, and the poet implies that the land is a chart of all the events that have happened over the course of the century. Hence the century itself becomes a symbol of the land’s occurrences and recent history.
  • The poetic device of metaphor has also been used by the poet to express feelings of despair and hope. Technically the term Metaphor refers to any word or expression that in literal usage denotes one kind of thing is applied to a distinctly different kind of thing without asserting a comparison. In this poem, the metaphor “Weakening eye of day” has been used to illustrate the setting of the weak winter sun, the sight of which causes the poet to reflect deeper into his despair. Similarly, but also quite contrarily, the metaphor “fling his soul” refers to the tumultuous and joyous outburst of a song by the bird that creates a spark of hope in the cold night air.   
  • There is also an instance of alliteration in the poem. The use of this device of Alliteration is for the lyrical musicality of the poem since it refers to the repetition of a speech sound in a sequence of nearby words. Usually, the term is applied only to consonants and only when the recurrent sound is made emphatic because it begins a word or a stressed syllable within a word. For example, mark the repetitive stress on the consonants and the lyrical quality it lends in the following lines of the poem –His crypt the cloudy canopy” /  “That I could think there trembled through”
  • Another important literary device used in this poem is a simile. In a Simile, an elaborate comparison is made between two distinctly different things, and it is explicitly indicated by the word ‘like’ or ‘as. For example, in the lines “The tangled bine-stems scored the sky / Like strings of broken lyres,”.”Tangled branches have no apparent similarity with broken strings of a lyre, but the poet created the similarity by adding the word ‘like’ to the whole concept. You can also refer to The Darkling Thrush Theme and Tone.


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