The poem is a sorrowful poem which opens with one after the other of ominous images, similes, and metaphors. It is dark and bleak, just as the title suggests.
Although it is so unhappy, it is also very deep. It talks about a lack of faith. The movement of the first two stanzas is from observation of a winter landscape as a terrible vision of the death. The diction is simple and direct, and the tone is the quiet voice of private conversation. The landscape is an “appearance” we are seeing through the eyes of a subjective perceiver.
The phenomena of frost is precisely represented but it also coincides with the psychological state of the speaker which becomes evident as the poem develops. Frost is gray as a ghost, Winter has dregs, as if the year were a drink that has been consumed down to the bitter lees. The sluggish weight of “Winter’s dregs” picks up and compounds the effect of “spectre-gray” which, in turn, leads into an effect of exhalation in “desolate. ” Whether he was leaning on the gate at the edge of a wooded grove in casual observation or from fatigue, a sense of oppressiveness is underscored by consonance.
The figure of the sun as a “weakening eye” is a personification, it establishes the poem’s time as at the closing of a particular day at the end of a seasonal year. It is a suggestive adjective for a time when seeing is becoming more difficult due to a reduction of light. One of the most interesting word choices in the poem is in the title. At first read, we might assume that “darkling” here is just a poetic way of saying “dark. ” when you actually go on to read the poem, you realise that the title is actually “The Thrush in the Dark. ” The poem owes much of its power to the economy of diction.
Mankind does not linger near their household fires, but “haunts” them. Hardy speaks not of every person upon earth, but every “spirit,” and they are “fervourless” – not just without passion, but literally without warmth, as the bodies of the dead. As the poem moves further away from visual observation to emotional colouration, it replaces concrete detail with pathetic fallacy. In Hardy’s poem, the lyric instrument is broken.
The stems of a climbing vine that could be found on a gate and neighboring trees, are part of the actual country scene. Vines, denuded and tangled in wintertime, do look like a mess of sprung strings. The vines elaborate subtly on the idea of dregs, both as the residuals of summer fertility and harvest, and the idea of lees, the base remainder of wine. The verb “scored” has several meanings: the idea of tallying up or recording costs or grudges or numbers in a competition as in time’s losses and gains reduced to dead stems; the act of notching the sky which is visually accurate if one is looking up through vines and carries a hint of incisions that are painful, and the idea of a written orchestration or musical score which leads the observer to think of music and stringed instruments that are broken. Hardy is using figurative devices, metaphor, simile, pathetic fallacy, in a way that increases the tentativeness of the comparisons. They resonate with the speaker’s thought and emotion at an increasing remove from simple perception of actual details, a move that becomes full-blown in the second octave.
The first stanza ends with the speaker’s awareness of the other humans for whom the landscape is also familiar although their effect on it is minimized by the verb “haunted”. He was a solitary spectator. They were like ghostly presences that had retired to the comforts of their homes. The first stanza establishes through a natural setting that a significant time, the end of day at the end of the year, is being recollected and retold by a solitary looker standing at a physical boundary, the edge of the woods. The scene has only the barest traces of life, in which natural and human presences are ghostly.
What started as a simple description of a winter scene by a physically passive observer subtly develops into a