The Darkling Thrush Poem Summary & Line by Line Explanation in English ISC 11


“The Darkling Thrush” is a great winter poem written by Thomas Hardy. Poised on the beginnings of a new year, Hardy reflects in this poem the events of the 19th century, along with his own feelings about the future and his attitude to nature. The poem opens with the end of the year, the end of the day, even the end of the century.

The speaker leans upon a wooden gate and views the land around him as a symbol of the events of the 19th century. The speaker separates himself from everyone as he, quietly, views the bleak scene around him. He feels that the century is dead, and the sky acting as a blanket for the dead.

All of a sudden out, of all that silence and death and never ending grayness, the speaker hears something. The sound which reminds him of love, life and hope. This is the evening song sung by a thrush hidden somewhere. The speaker, surprised, says that the thrush manages to sing a beautiful song even in this feather ruffling wind.

The poet reflects on hearing the song. He is unaware of the thrush’s reason for being cheerful but he seem to believe that such a cause for hope exists somewhere, and he simply hasn’t discovered it. 

Stanza 1

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 speaker seems to be a loner standing against a wooden gate, watching the bleak scene around him with careful eyes. The world seems to be sad, and winter is drawing to its close. The simile of the thick tangled stems of the plant as a broken lyre adds more to his sorrow and sadness and around him.

Against the background of this hopeless scene when coldness and darkness descends, the human beings retire to their homes to sit by the fireside. The speaker, however, does not include himself among all mankind. He alienates himself as to be the only man standing at a desolate scene.

To make the dejected ambience more profound, Frost develops human like characteristics in “spectre-grey.” The speaker points out the lack of life, colour and music through the first stanza. 

Stanza 2

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. 

In this stanza, the land becomes a map of everything that’s happening over the course of the century. It seem to embody the dead century. The sharp features of the land seem to be the Century’s dead body and the cloud works as a canopy, covering up the dead body.

The speaker feels that because of extreme cold, the rhythm of conception and truth has slowed down remarkably. Throughout the stanza, the image of death is quite prominent. Through the birth of technology and the  Industrial Revolution, 19th century has become stagnant.

A new era is rising in the horizon and the people have found solace through that. However, the poet is unable to come to terms with the new era as he is not so sure about forgetting all old values and beliefs for the sake of a new and improved world. 

Stanza 3

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. 

Suddenly, the speaker hears a singing and not just any song- this is an all out love song. It is full, beautiful and full of happiness. This is the evening song sung by a thrush, hidden somewhere. Though the titular thrush finally makes its appearance, it is not at all pretty to look at.

It is a weak aged bird whose plumes have been battered by the storm. The poor bird is stuck in the middle of a nasty storm, yet its zest for life has not been drained. The bird somehow manages to exist and sing in this dull and desolate surroundings with its ruffled plumes. 

Stanza 4

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 thrush’s song is cheerful and the cheerfulness of its song has disrupted the gloominess around. The song is merely just not a song, but an indication that nothing is absolutely negative. Hope arises even from the most dark and dejected situations. The small and frail bird has managed to do what the poet has been unable to.

Though the bird probably won’t create a big change but it’s willing to try. The speaker realizes that even the tiniest of efforts can lead to different speculations. The speaker points out that there is no such reason for the thrush to be singing in such a weather and in a world where everything is dying.

There might be some hope of good fortune in the bird’s heart, which the speaker is unaware of and yet to find out. This stanza conveys a message of hope and love and a positive approach to life. If a thrush can sing its heart out without a care, surely the poet can do the same. 


Though the poem ends on an ambiguous note, it does spread the message of hope and love. The song of darkling thrush ushers a new lease of life in the gloomy ambience and a positive approach to life itself. The new century about to take birth, might bring a new shaft of hope to the ailing humanity.

Hope can be found even in the littlest of things because one just has to keep looking. Just like the poet, everyone needs to find their hope and love, even in desolate times, to sing like the thrush.