Tuesday, January 3, 2012

"To Fling His Soul Upon The Growing Gloom"

As I have observed on more than one occasion, each generation believes that it is living in a time in which the world is going to Hell in a handbasket.  (The Baby Boom Generation -- of which, alas, I am a member -- is particularly prone to self-regarding, self-aggrandizing delusions about its historical uniqueness and importance.)  Thus, some may look upon the coming year with a bit of trepidation.  I respectfully suggest that, in order to gain some perspective, they have a gander at, say, Herodotus. 

Reading the poetry of Thomas Hardy also gives one a sense of perspective.  Hardy dated the following poem "31 December 1900," and it is directed at the turning of the century, not simply the turning of the year.  Yet, it provides a reminder that -- along with Human Nature -- we will always have thrushes (in some form or another) with us.  

           The Darkling Thrush

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.

Thomas Hardy, Poems of the Past and the Present (1901).

                        Evelyn Dunbar, "Winter Garden" (c. 1929-1937)

Several times each year, I figuratively slap myself on the forehead and say:  "Why do I always forget how good Hardy is?"  This occurs either after I have stumbled upon a wonderful poem unknown to me among his 940-or-so poems, or, alternatively, after I have revisited a familiar poem and am struck anew by its excellence. 

"The Darkling Thrush" is one of Hardy's most-anthologized, best-known poems.  Thus, it is easy to take for granted.  But then something new hits you.  For me, this time, it was these lines:  "Had chosen thus to fling his soul/Upon the growing gloom."  "Gloom" is endemic in Hardy's poetry, so its appearance comes as no surprise.  No, what struck me this time around was "fling his soul."  These are the moments that bring one back to Hardy.

                      Edward Bawden, "Lindsell Church, Essex" (1959)


Anonymous said...

i dont know..but i think like Mao said..Religion and forcast is opium for the people..soo they forget the conditions they live in..but i dont know really..but very nice and good poems..and paintings too.

zmkc said...

This Christmas post from the Dabbler blog, highlighting a Hardy poem, might interest you: http://thedabbler.co.uk/2011/12/ghosts-of-christmas/

Stephen Pentz said...

Thank you, zmkc. Are you referring to the post on "The Oxen" or to Brit's poem "Ghosts of Christmas"? (I presume the former.) Yes, "The Oxen" is beautiful, isn't it? I try to read it each year before Christmas.

It reminds me of the exchange that you and I had recently about Thom Gunn's comment on Hardy's "sincerity" and his lack of "rhetoric". The poem in no way pulls our leg or patronizes, and I believe that Hardy says exactly what he feels.

Thank you again for pointing it out.

zmkc said...

Sorry, The Oxen post is the one I meant to point you to.

Stephen Pentz said...

zmkc: I thought so. Thanks again for pointing it out to me.

Stephen Pentz said...

Thank you for visiting again, Anita. However, I'm afraid that I do not consider Mao to be a reliable source on anything given the death and the misery that he was responsible for. (That goes for Marx as well, who was probably the source of the quote that you mentioned.)