Monday, December 21, 2009

The Winter Solstice: December 21, 2009

While this poem was dated by Hardy, on December 31, 1900, I think it serves equally well for a poem set on the Winter's Solstice, the shortest day of the year, when Night has achieved its greatest victory over Day and it seems as though the days of the sun and warmth shall never return.

Yet, as the Taoists tell us, when any particular condition (day/night, wet/dry, cold/hot) has gained its greatest extent, its eventual defeat is embedded within that victory. For while December 21, 2009, may be the shortest day of the year, December 22 shows us that all is not lost, for we are now moving towards the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year.

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 fervorless 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 --


  1. Thank you, Fred (and thank you, Thomas Hardy). Your poignant posting reminds of something that seems to match up with your Taoist commentary:

    Each sunset is an occasion for reflecting on the past, and each sunrise is an occasion for looking toward the future. The darkness of night, which waits for each of us between sunset and sunrise, is almost always even more challenging.

    Merry Christmas, Fred.

  2. R. T.,

    Yes, it does match up, as the darkness of night which is most challenging can be seen as the daily equivalent of the yearly period of darkness at the Winter Solstice.

    The thought of daybreak then relates to the hope of Spring.

    Perhaps there even might be a relationship here with the darkness or the Void (in Taoist terms) that brackets life here and now. What went before and what comes next? The hope for an afterlife?

  3. R. T.

    Merry Christmas and best wishes that 2009 was better than 2008, but not as good as 2010 will be.

  4. I had no idea Thomas Hardy wrote poetry, Fredr! That was lovely.

  5. Anonymous,

    Thank you. Glad you liked it. It is one of my favorite poems by Hardy.

    From the Introduction to _The Works of Thomas Hardy_, published by _The Wordsworth Poetry Library_:

    "Thomas Hardy was a poet by choice, a novelist by necessity. His writing of prose fiction he never viewed as anything more than a temporary profession--an economically compulsory interruption of his poetic career in a world where poetry did not pay. . .At heart he was always a poet..."

    He is like Robert Graves in this respect.

    The Wordsworth collection has almost 900 pages of Hardy's poetry. He began writing poetry early on, continued writing while he was writing novels, and after he stopped writing novels, went on to writing poetry full time. He published his first collection of poetry at age 58--_Wessex Poems_-which contained approximately 200 poems. I would guess that conservatively the Wordsworth collection has over 500 poems.

    If you are interested in reading another favorite of mine by Hardy, go to the entry for June 5, 2009 or go to the list of labels and click on "Hap."