“So little cause for carolings / Of such ecstatic sound / Was written on terrestrial things”

Now that the summer season is wearing on, the thrushes are singing at dusk. More than any other songbird, their voices seem to rise as the sun sets. There is something irredeemably sad in the fluting of a thrush as the western horizon sweeps up and takes away the light.

We’ve heard Thoreau’s springtime rapture over the same song; Hardy’s refrain takes over as days shorten, with Hughes’ black silent waters lapping close.

But “irredeemable” must be a lie. Hardy kindles his hope and even Hughes bends to be blent in the prayer. And the thrush remains beautifully inscrutable in his otherness.

5 thoughts on ““So little cause for carolings / Of such ecstatic sound / Was written on terrestrial things”

  1. Country Mouse

    Ah, yes. Beautifully inscrutable. You credit Hardy and Hughes with a streak of brightness I don’t see. Hardy acknowledges the idea of hope in the bird, perhaps, but he himself is left bleak, maybe even more bleak by contrast. Hughes says that *though* a man bends to be blent – distracting demons rage above the fire above him, and weep below the waters below him. Thanks so much for bringing these poems to my attention – I love these poets, Hardy especially. But emotionally I’m generally more like Thoreau. We have thrashers where I live in CA, who sing wonderfully but a bit gruffly, not that thirst-quenching tone. Recently I was in the UK and heard a blackbird after how many years… ah, that purity of tone. When I heard it, I was Young, and Nature in her Spring!

    1. David George Haskell Post author

      You’re right about Hughes — he’s pretty much always bleak, although there is something hopeful in the energy that he puts into words. Hard to put a finger on. Hardy’s poem is, I think, ultimately one of hope, even though he claims not to be aware of it — a coy conclusion given how well he describes the hope in the previous lines. Hope is, after all, not in the hand.

      1. Country Mouse

        Thanks for your reply! Coy – I don’t see that. The speaker in the Hardy poem is aware of the existence of hope, but feels shut out from the experience of it (as he is shut out of the cosy homes). Hardy, I read, yearned to be religious, but just couldn’t buy into it. Bleak sadness and yearning: That’s the sort of feeling I get from reading this poem. I agree Hughes’s energy gives his work a very different feeling, very dynamic. After reading the Hughes poem, I thought about an Anna’s hummingbird I watched basking in the first rays of sun for several minutes, earlier this year — very much NOT like Hughes thrush — and I had to smile.

        1. David George Haskell Post author

          I’ve always found Hughes’ work to be very very English — lots of rain, lots of crows. If he had lived in Santa Cruz, I’m sure his work would have been quite different. Maybe the bleakness of dry dry soil or an unrelenting coastal wind?! But it is hard to be bleak around redwood trees and Anna’s hummers…


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