Thursday, December 09, 2010

Gates and Thomas Hardy

click photo to enlarge
On December 31st 1900, Thomas Hardy wrote what has come to be one of his best loved poems. Apparently it was published in The Times newspaper on the following day, a fact that I find remarkable.* The original title was By the Century's Deathbed but today we know it as The Darkling Thrush. As I took my photograph of this field gate that leads into a pasture in the village, it was the first line of Hardy's poem about a bleak and wintry landscape that came to mind - "I leant upon a coppice gate when Frost was spectre-grey". Of course my gate wasn't the entry to a coppice, nor was the sun "the weakening eye of day" - it was rising. My mood wasn't quite as sombre as that of the poet either, perhaps because it was morning light that I surveyed as opposed to his end-of-day gloom.

In some respects this is an unusual poem to have achieved such popularity, and it must surely be not only its accessibility, but also the introduction of the thrush's song and the note of hope that it brings, that makes it so well liked. I don't know if this is the last of the snowy morning photographs that I'll post, but Hardy's poem makes me think I need to get out at the end of the day and take a few more downbeat images.

*Addendum: The poem had been published in The Graphic some time before Hardy added a note that it was written on 31st Decemeber 1900, so publication in The Times the next day isn't so remarkable after all.

For anyone who doesn't know the poem, here it is. Hardy died in 1928 and so his work is now out of copyright.

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 seem’d 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
    Seem'd fervourless 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 carollings
    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 bless├Ęd Hope, whereof he knew
    And I was unaware.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 24mm
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/800
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: -0.6 EV
Image Stabilisation: On