Friday 25 January 2013

Thrushes, Darkling and Otherwise

Sad news today about that fine bird, the Mistle Thrush - though I must say that, like many such reports from the RSPB, it rather contradicts my own experience. Down my way, the Mistle has never been much of a garden bird, preferring the tall trees and open spaces of the many parks with which my southern suburban demiparadise is blessed. When I was growing up (in the same demiparadise), the Song Thrush was a common garden bird, and it is certainly much less common now, though I see more than I used to ten years ago. I still see pretty much the same number of Mistle Thrushes as I ever did - a fine pair unusually close only the other day in one of the parks. As for the Starling - in steep decline according to the RSPB - I haven't seen so many in years as I've seen this winter. They are recovering very strongly down my day, and on these cold days I'm seeing far more Starlings than anything else. But back to the Mistle Thrush - I wonder if Hardy's Darkling Thrush was a Mistle? It sings pretty much all year round and in the grimmest circumstances (hence its other name, Stormcock). Hardy would have known of course, but he doesn't say. Here's the poem, in which Hardy, inspired by nothing more than a thrush's song, almost lapses into optimism...

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 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 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.


  1. How odd -- when I woke on this very cold morning (14 degrees), reluctant to get up, I said The Darkling Thrush over to myself. And right now, at 3:30, "winter's dregs make desolate/the weakening eye of day".
    It's that time all right.
    Susan in NYC

  2. It is that, Susan - though over here the days are at last getting noticeably longer. Spring will come!