Hardy’s “The Darkling Thrush”

I included this poem in my January 1, 2002 entry and I still haven’t found a better poem to start a new year.

Perhaps it’s a testament to the value of art that this poem written at the beginning of the 20th Century seems as valid today as it did the day it was written.


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 outleapt,
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.

December 1900

There is, indeed, something in the human soul that helps us to transcend the tragedy of the world that each of us must confront everyday of our life.

Out of the Depths

I don’t think I ever told you about the day I arrived in Vietnam on a troop transport ship. We’d spent a rough twenty-two days crossing the Pacific, including several days going nowhere while the captain tried to keep the ship headed into an oncoming typhoon. It was, at best, an unpleasant voyage, highlighted by the week I spent in bed too seasick to eat, surviving on crackers brought back by fellow officers.

Since our ship arrived at night, we anchored far out in the harbor. Flares lit the distant shores while helicopters and gunships rained down intermittent fire, blazing the way for our imminent arrival.

While others watched the brilliant fireworks in the sky, I spent most of the night gazing deep into the sea, watching sea snakes rise repeatedly out of the depths, attracted by the lights of the ship shining directly into the sea, perhaps feeding on the small fish dazzled by the sudden light. Though I’ve always been terrified of snakes, in that light, in that place, there was no fear, just a strange fascination with these deadly sea serpents rising out of the darkness below.

Feeling a little like a small fish myself, I didn’t sleep that night. As the sun rose in the East, I stood staring across the harbor at mines and half-sunken ships that had preceded us.

Finally, stripped of our accustomed tanks and armored tracks, feeling as vulnerable as a turtle without a shell, we donned our flak vests and with weapons at the ready boarded landing crafts and were taken ashore, only to be confronted by American nurses and soldiers laying on the beach sunbathing.

Faced with new dangers
our greatest fears rise
to greet us once again.

Amidst a World of Sorrow

The world seems to be conspiring to make it difficult to keep my resolution to keep a positive attitude for the next few weeks.

I’ve contacted my annual after-Christmas cold, which generally seems a small price to pay for so much Christmas cheer, a chance to play with grandchildren, and a chance to dine with relatives from far and near. I really didn’t need a cold this year, though, as I was supposed to start stockpiling blood for my upcoming surgery. As it turns out, they were afraid of me re-infecting myself after the surgery so they canceled today’s blood drawing.

That means I’m off to the doctor later today to get some medication to hopefully ensure that I’m well by next week’s donation date and that I’m as strong as possible for the end-of-the-month surgery. Hopefully I’ll even be out walking again in the next few days, though I really can’t promise that yet.

Most depressing of all, though, has been the recent tsunami disaster in Asia, added on top of all the misery that our planet already seems to be suffering. I’ve tried avoiding the pictures altogether, but have found it nearly impossible to avoid the news, the constantly rising death figures, and the ugly squabbles over whether or not America is “stingy” with its contributions to the world’s poor. Somehow when you compare our country’s offer of $35 million, even that apparently increased since the original figure was criticized, to the millions spent trying to subdue Iraq, it’s hard to pronounce us “generous.”

Perhaps I would even feel better if I could whip out my checkbook and give generously to those who have suffered so much and have so little, but, ironically enough, I have just begun to receive the bills for my cancer treatment and realize my co-pay will run into the thousands, and perhaps well more than that. What I thought was a generous saving account may well not cover my share of the hospital and doctor expenses. I know the money I need will be there when I need it, but not knowing the ultimate cost is just one more thing to worry about when there already seemed more than enough to worry about.

Amidst this vast sea of sorrow
why is it always easiest to see —
our own small vessel foundering?