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The Pursuit of Spirituality

As Depicted in Thomas Hardy s The Darkling Thrush by Hashmi Rafsanjani ID 1020846

Thomas Hardy expertly encapsulates desolation, despair and promise in his December 31st, 1900 piece The Darkling Thrush. The aimlessness, alienation and anomie portrayed in the poem reflect the dejected mindset of the early 20th century society burdened and bludgeoned by the trails of rapid industrialization. Hardy explores the ideas and values that brings the human soul together and in doing so shows us the importance of faith. Hardys The Darkling Thrush represents his pessimism in the midst of optimism or vice versa. It seems that Hardy in stranded between optimism and pessimism between hope and despair. This paper intends to admire the beauty of optimism in the face of sheer pessimism, the pursuit of the human soul to find divine spirituality and in the process discover what makes up the humane side of humans. The paper will initially explicate the poem, revealing the key structural elements of the poem. Afterwards itll draw summary from the poem in its literal meaning, and then conclude by identifying the evidences that prove the loss and consequent importance of faith. However, in order to fully realize the transcendence of the pursuit of the spirit of life in Hardys The Darkling Thrush we must consider the time frame for the creation of this poem. Thomas Hardy wrote 'The Darkling Thrush' at the turn of the century, on the 31st of December, 1900. It was a date and moment that not just signaled the transcendence of one age to another, however it also reflects upon an age of great changes. Written against the backdrop of rapid social and

economic changes and struggles of the Industrial Revolution, this poem reflects Hardys belief that the influence of the Revolution is destroying the basic joys of the human soul. That it makes humanity more machine-like that humane. Furthermore the time frame is made even more evident by the use of extinct words such bine-stems, outleant, and beruffled. Considered one of Hardys most lyrical poems it is musical in execution, metaphor, theme, and even title. The Darkling Thrush is structured in the following manner. It is composed in four octet, or eight-line stanzas, with an ABABCDCD rhyme scheme. The Darkling Thrush is written in iambic tetrameter, with lines one, three, five, and seven carrying four stressed syllables, and lines two, four, six, and eight carrying three stressed syllables. The title in literal fashion means the bird which finds itself in the morbid setting of an ever darkening dusk. Again the title portrays the bird as the human soul which now finds itself at the end of a sorry age, and perhaps apprehensively, at the beginning of another. The emergence of the bird however signals faintly at hope. The poem is set against a gloomy landscape, barren, desolate and heartless country landscape. Again the notion of the Revolution is to be considered, as fact suggests that the green countrysides of Britain were the most affected and influenced by the expansion of industries and urbanization. Furthermore the choice of words that will be later touched on extends the glum of the setting even further. In terms of alliterations the usage of words such as corpse, crypt, cloudy, canopy etc, and use of similarly sounded words in consequent lines is evident. These words, upon focusing on their importance and utility go on to reveal the despair of the setting and mood of the poem. In the very first stanza the repetition of e sounds contribute to the demoralized setting of the poem.

The gloomy mood is further stressed with usage of various metaphors and personification. This paper will assess these various elements gradually. 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.

Hardy starts off the poem setting itself against a bleak and barren landscape, which is immediately evident by his appropriate use of metaphors, namely in the lines When Frost was spectre-grey and And Winters dregs made desolate where Hardy suggests the presence of the darkening evening as an ominous and somber one. The usage of words such as spectre and the word haunted suggest an anxious tone; also the personification of Frost is clear as it has been given an uppercase first letter. Then Hardy compares the setting sun of the dusk to a weakening eye and uses the metaphor of dregs to suggest the fading light of dusk The tangled bine-stems scored the sky paints a sad image where the cryptic reach of the bare branches of trees creep across the evening sky. He laments on by mentioning broken harps and chords of an instrument that may have one day made sweet music in the line The tangled bine-stems scored the sky. Like strings of broken lyres. He ends the stanza on yet another sorrowful note, reflecting upon his own stark loneliness while the countryside is lit in glimpses with families cuddling up to their homely warmth.

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.

The morbidity is stressed even further as Hardy initiates the second stanza ferociously comparing the barren, bleak landscape to a corpse. He has vaulted the lifeless corpse within the realms of the cloudy canopy above and in saying The wind his death-lament Hardy personified the wind as being the messenger of sorrow and misery of his bleak land to lands afar. The forlornness of the country-side is again brought to the fore when Hardy states out the lifelessness of the land. The ancient pulse of germ and birth. Was shrunken hard and dry. The very essence of a vibrant nature seems to have abandoned the countryside amongst the despair of winter. Furthermore specific wordplay in turn creates a cold, creepy mood for the reader of the poem. The words crypt and corpse create a nervous atmosphere. Hardy in his last lines And every spirit upon earth, seemed fervourless as I leave us with a sorrowful end yet again, where he likes the sterility of this country side to this moment which is filled with his own joyless, lonesome, operose emotions. 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.

The third stanza is a rather crucial one as it brings forth an idea completely offsetting the brooding nature of Hardys poem thus far. Metaphorically the emergence of a voice, and a bird is quite significant as it symbolizes change, freedom, hope and overall a promise of a better outlook. The stress on the words while pronouncing also draws great importance to their value in order to describe the bird as seen in the line An aged thrush, frail, gaunt and small. Intriguingly, the use of illimited (meaning unlimited) and previous use of outleant in the poem show us the use of words that are considered extinct nowadays. Lastly, the importance of the birds emergence is again clarified as it is shown to have spread unconditional joy even in the midst of sheer apprehension. At that instant, all that was ugly appeared beautiful. All whom he thought felt the world was dead, are now seeing it for a second time even under the intense and ominous prospect of 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.

The poem ends on a rather philosophical tone where Hardy contemplates the action of the thrush. He ponders, So little cause for carolings, of such ecstatic sound. Here carolings refer not just to the thrushs immaculate willpower in singing a tune in the face of adversity, but also to the religious carols that could penetrate the glooms of the dry, forsaken landscape. Hardy draws an end on a more hopeful note and with masterful wordplay he says, That I could think there trembled through, his happy good-night air, some blessed Hope, whereof he knew, and I was

unaware. Here again, Hardy uses an uppercase to write Hope as he is trying to imply more than just the literal sense of hope, but rather more. Leaning against a coppice gate, Hardy ponders not just the barrenness of his surroundings but also the barrenness of his own mortal soul. Frost has not just fallen thick and fast on the greeneries of old, but also it has frozen the ideals and principles of his very human nature. The weakening eye of the day has not only set on the horizons of the land ahead, but the glow that it once brought to the human soul has now fast deteriorated and the journey afar the coppice gate is not a desired destination anymore. Instead it is the burden of the travails of travel through a life that once used to be the symphonies of joy and merriment, but now is a broken harp with unturned chords and all the wrong notes. And while the counted few warm themselves in their forgone ignorance, Hardy believes that he has revealed unto him the gravity of his loss. While many recurring themes can be implied, it is clear that here Hardy is talking about his loss of identity and his loss of spirit. In the very places where once happiness ruled, he finds nothing more than insolence and his distraught self. He has not found meaning in going on anymore, but is now exhausted after carrying the burdens of grief of time long gone. Hardy has not only lost meaning but he has more importantly, lost faith. Faith in the divine powers of God Himself. And it is not just him, but humanity as well as they have surrendered their joys and empathy to the machines of power and sheer aggression. There isnt time for joyful musings, rather it has become necessary to find refuge from the hardships of living without faith. And if it were not enough, we are then given a sorry image of his dismal surroundings. The grit of iron, metal, steel and sweat has left its toll on the environment around him. It is no longer the life and breathe of nature, the vibrancy of untouched green and blue, the life of nomadic bees or the very casket of birth. The force of metal on nature has drained the life out of the landscape,

and centuries of beauty now lays ravaged, forgotten and forsaken. It has become nothing more a mutilated corpse, captured within a vault of dark clouds. The stagnancy is only relieved by the passing of wind, however that only serves as a messenger, carrying nothing more than the news of death. The wind blowing through the broken harp, is like the somber tune of funerals. Hardy, is drawing parallels here to the physicality of the human being. He stresses that the once beautiful and vibrant human soul encapsulated within the indomitable physique, is now worn and lost to the rigors of industrial demands. The very heartbeat, the very breathe that once was full of inspiration and energy is now like the tolling of funeral bells. As if it already knows of the impending inevitability of death that is to come, and come soon. Hardy, shows that the human resolve is now mentally and physically under strain as it shrinks in importance due to its loss of innate identity or faith. He is portraying the human soul as lost, and incapable of collecting itself within the majestic frame of body it has. While they may labor away, there is no apparent vigor or strength that the human body can show. There is no happiness in the laboring, rather it is subjugated and enforced against upon himself against at the cost of his spirit. But true to the humane quality of surprise, hope appears in the form of a frail, gaunt, sick and small thrush. Hardy is struck by the immense will power of the thrush to sing a song even after looking too pale and frail for it. Its feathers are ruffled by the strengthening evening wind. Yet it has joy in its heart. The bleakness and the emptiness of the countryside has suddenly been shattered by the faintest yet profound promise of hope. In the very face of sheer difficulty the bird somehow manages to defeat difficulty and force despair into momentary submission. It brings out the core values of a humanity of fighting on through the bleakest of moments. Hardy by the usage of a bird has introduced the ideas of positive opposites to the negatives of death;

weakening eyes can strengthen with the new day and new season, broken musical instruments can be repaired and hard and dry seeds can germinate again. Hardy implies that the hardened and bludgeoned human entity can find its spirituality back again, by the slightest hint of joy in the hardest of times. This find, can then spur him on through to rise again. The poem now plays with the idea of hope, and compares the frail, gaunt and small thrush to the miserable, stagnant and distraught outlook of the society. Society and humanitys loss of faith has condemned it to a remorseful state, yet the very humane quality of rejoicing in the simplest of elements scatter life anew upon their minds. Hardy implies that no matter how deepening the sorrow may be, the slightest hint of the elation of divine spirituality can lift morals of everyone. It can bring forth new life, even upon the moribund. The slightest hint of faith, can and will allow humanity to recover its greatest pomp. The pessimism however is instilled again by Hardy, when lastly he is bemused by the fluttering thrushs song amidst the barren and desolate openness that encircles him. He finds himself, and humanity so far abandoned amidst the vastness of forlornness, that he sees the momentary flicker of joy as just that-momentary. He ponders and allows us to ponder as well, about whether or not the vast expansion of iron and steel that humanity has brought upon it will allow it to realize the God-shaped hole that is in their soul. Hardy proves how the struggle to find ones lost exuberating spirit can dismantle a person emotionally, and Hardy whims about whether or not that person can recover. He points out the death of spirit itself that is no longer able to create a faith in lifes meaning. The mention of carolings and blessed Hope suggest that this pursuit to find solitude has one religious side to it, and that brings us to our conclusion. The momentary lapse in the desolation by the emergence of the thrush suggests that humanity have always created and aligned themselves to symbols of hope and promise, to act as a focus for

spirituality. They have always created a faith for themselves, no matter how sickening the morbidity of life is. They have done this to foster their sense of the wonder and ineffable, innate values of life. Human beings cannot endure emptiness and anguish; they will fill the void by focusing on to a new leash of life. The rigors and determination of steel, iron can easily be overcome by the human determination of spirit. Our very pursuit of divine spirituality is what allows us to discover our own selves. God, and the divine presence is a deep-rooted need of the human mind and soul. Without the beauty of unconditional faith, human kind can no longer function in its full vigor or pomp. While mankind can master and champion the outleant nature with his steel determination and grit, he cannot master his own soul unless the promise of Hope is ever present. The God-shaped hole in the human consciousness, where God has always been creates nothing more but morbid desolation. The transcendent deity amongst our spirits is not only that of wisdom, but also that of faith. And that very faith is what allows us to be humane at the end of the day.