January 2, 2020

Poem to Help Your Public Speaking: The Darkling Thrush

Public Speaking , Poems to Read Aloud , The Buckley Experience

The Buckley School's founder believed that all public speakers should hone their presentation skills by reading poetry out loud. We keep that worthwhile practice alive by including a poem in our magazine each month for you to read aloud. 

"'The Darkling Thrush' opens with endings: the end of the year, the end of the day, even the end of the century….But every ending is also a beginning of some sort."

– Dr. Oliver Tearle

We find that most speakers can benefit from a little work on their enunciation. To experience the glorious benefits of crisp diction and hear why it's worth the effort, we direct you to Senate Chaplain Barry Black (a Buckley School alum, btw).

This month, we're revisiting Thomas Hardy for lines that read aloud like a bit of a tongue twister. His poem also happens to capture the mood of a winter month at the start of a new decade.

Thomas Hardy, in a photograph made about 10 years after the publication of "The Darkling Thrush."

A few bits and pieces about "The Darkling Thrush" that we found interesting as we did a little research:

  • A "coppice gate" is a gate that opens into the woods.

  • The poem was originally called "The Century's End, 1900" and was first printed on December 29, 1900, perhaps because Hardy was one of the people who believed the new century began on January 1, 1901.

  • "Darkling" just means "in the dark" and is not referring to the bird's coloring or species.
A tawny thrush, as painted by Audubon, in which "tawny" refers to the bird's coloring.

You can read more analysis and background on the poem here and here.


The Darkling Thrush

by Thomas Hardy 

I leant upon a coppice gate

      When Frost was spectre-grey,

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.

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