In this essay I intend to compare the use of nature in ‘Song’ by Anne Bronte and ‘The Darkling Thrush’ by Thomas Hardy and look at how the poets convey the feeling of pessimism in their poems. Both of the poems have seemingly bleak outlooks with the theme of change, as well as the use of imagery of nature and animals. ‘Song’ was written in 1845 by Anne Bronte, with Thomas Hardy writing his poem, ‘The Darkling Thrush’, in around 1898 or 1899 ( – the dates exactly are often disputed as on the original poem they would appear to have been changed); however both poems were written before the turn of the 1900s.
Anne Bronte came from a family whose fame was established through their use of the English language throughout their many novels and poems. Thomas Hardy was another great novelist, and poet, who was also encouraged at a very young age to pursue his interest in literature by his family – his mother in particular. ‘The Darkling Thrush’ is about the turn of the new century in the 1900 and is about how Hardy is unoptimistic about the future of humanity.
The dreary and unforgiving landscape is a metaphor for the end of the 19th century and the singing thrush is symbolic of the forthcoming century. The feeling of pessimism in this poem portrays the doubt felt by many people through naturalistic imagery, as they had just experienced the industrial evolution and were now not sure that change was the correct way forward. Hardy uses this imagery to look forward to the bleak images of the future – the nature as it is, no longer unaffected by mankind. ‘Song’ by Anne Bronte is about war and role reversal.
It is set in three stanzas; each exploring a different aspect if the war. The use of natural imagery is very clear at the beginning of the poem, ‘We know where deepest lies the snow, /And where the frost-winds keenest blow, /O’er every mountain’s brow’, in these few lines, it is describing through nature how the ‘foe’ is enduring tough times and using superlatives to indicate this. The mountain is a metaphor for the ‘foe’, who, was the authoritative figure and now faces hard times – ‘are hunted now’.
The title itself ‘The Darkling Thrush’ portrays the negative attitude towards the next century before we have even read the poem. This can be seen through the use of ‘Thrush’ – this bird is also called a nightingale, a bird used in a lot of love poetry and often conveyed singing sweetly; however Hardy has used its more common name with less of a flowing sound. The added use of ‘Darkling’ makes the title much more ominous and overall conveys a much darker meaning to both the title and adds to the overall effect of the poem.
Formed in four octaves, or eight-line, stanzas, with an ABABCDCD rhyme scheme, “The Darkling Thrush” is written in iambic tetrameter. Lines one, three, five, and seven contain four stressed syllables, and lines two, four, six, and eight, three stressed syllables. This set structure and the use of these conventional features when also contrasted with the tone of despair throughout, creates a tension in the poem. Both ‘Song’ and ‘The Darkling Thrush’ are seemingly dark and pessimistic poems which consist of lots of imagery – both of nature and death.
This use of death to show the bleak turn (and death) of the century can be seen throughout ‘The Darkling Thrush’ through the use of adjectives such as ‘spectre-gray’, verbs such as ‘haunted’ and nouns such as ‘corpse’ and ‘crypt’ –it is clear that Thomas Hardy and many other people have very little hope for the future. The same can be said for ‘Song’; although the meaning of the poem may not be quite as clear, the poem is reminiscing war.
We have their princely homes’; this suggests they have been victorious and ‘chased away’ their ‘vanquished victors’. The nature-related imagery in this second stanza of ‘Song’ is purely to convey the bleak future of the ‘foe’ that have been driven away ‘To our wild haunts’. The use of the word ‘wild’ in this line indicates the animalistic portrayal of war, whilst the word ‘haunts’ is another reference to death. This, shortly followed by ‘Small respite will they find until/They slumber in their graves’ adds to the dramatic tension of the poem.
The poems diverge in their use of metaphors, for example, in ‘The Darkling Thrush’ ‘The Century’s corpse’ is outlined through the use of phrases such as ‘The wind his death lament’; this juxtaposed with the use of ‘An aged thrush, frail, gaunt and small’ creates a very gloomy atmosphere with a slight portrayal of hope through the thrush ‘In a full-hearted evensong’. The opposite can be said of ‘Song’ where there is little hope to be found in the poem. In the last stanza: But I would rather be the hare That trembling in its sheltered lair Must start at every sound; That forced from cornfields waving wide Is driven to seek the bare hillside,
Or in the tangled copse to hide, Than be the hunter’s hound. The poem seems to indicate that they ‘have their princely homes’ – the use of princely makes this seem to be a positive outcome, however in this last stanza, Anne Bronte indicates a longing to return to the original state of matters; she would rather ‘be the hare’. This suggests a pessimistic mood as however the situation they long for another and are not optimistic about the future. The enjambement in this stanza is also important as it creates a tension in the poem and inspires the reader to uncover the reasons for the longing for role reversal.
Overall, I think that ‘Song’ by Anne Bronte and ‘The Darkling Thrush’ by Thomas Hardy both convey a pessimistic view about the future and explore the use of naturalistic imagery. The naturalistic imagery in both poems is very important and it is through this use of nature that the pessimism and true meaning of both poems are understood. Nature is a prominent theme throughout the poems and conveyed through the use of the many metaphors throughout each poem. The forms of both poems are also very important at creating a tension in the poems and the alliteration is used successfully to put emphasis on key parts of the poems.