Nature is at the heart of ‘The Darkling Thrush’ and most of Hardy’s most famous poems. Hardy is a renowned rural poet which suggests that he has a keen interest and knowledge of nature. However, this is not to say that nature is at the heart at every one of his most famous poems – it is sometimes merely a backdrop for other themes, such as war, fate and lost love. Hardy explores human nature in ‘Drummer Hodge’, the downward spiral of mankind using ‘Channel Firing’ and romantic grief in ‘The Voice’. In my opinion this statement implies that all of Hardy’s most famous works are connected to nature.
However, such a prolific poet cannot be labelled with such an absolute statement. Although on the surface ‘Darkling Thrush’ appears to focus on the theme of nature, it actually addresses a myriad of themes including mankind being victims of time and Hardy’s apprehension about the uncertainty of the new century. The internal punctuation causes the poem to have an inbuilt awkwardness, ‘an aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small’, which encapsulates Hardy’s fear of the unknown future and leaving behind the familiarity and heritage of the past in the headlong rush to progress.
For a similar purpose Hardy uses an alternate rhyme scheme with a slightly disjointed rhythm; ‘among’ and ‘evensong’, to recreate a sense of uncertainty also found in the work of H. G Wells and Bram Stoker. Hardy uses alliteration in ‘Century’s corpse’ as a symbol of the winter landscape and the end of the century. The landscape is in mourning; ‘the wind his death-lament’, ‘the ancient pulse of germ and birth was shrunken hard and dry’ and ‘his crypt the cloudy canopy’.
In the depth of winter, rebirth seems impossible, but Hardy contrasts this with the optimism of the thrush; this symbolises the hope Hardy feels he has lost. Perhaps the ‘aged’ thrush is a representation of himself, although some readers may interpret the use of the bird as nature representing hope in a desolate landscape, others view the text as pessimistic. Therefore Hardy’s use of nature is ambiguous and depends on the reader’s interpretation. In contrast, Hardy’s use of nature in ‘The Convergence of the Twain’ is less mbiguous. Hardy feels that the ‘intimate welding’ of nature and fate has resulted in the ‘jar[ring]’ of ‘two hemispheres’; it is ‘human vanity’ or human nature that is at the heart of this text. Hardy highlights the arrogance of society and their pursuit of wealth; qualities that he felt characterised the 19th Century. The poet juxtaposes the opulence of the ‘mirrors’ and ‘jewels’ with the ‘grotesque’ creatures of the sea; here nature is indifferent to the suffering of mankind.
Hardy disapproved of this ‘floating palace’ and like many contemporaries was concerned by the view that it was ‘unsinkable’. The rhythm of the poem echoes the waves and the ship’s inevitable journey towards the iceberg, its ‘sinister mate’. Mankind has no control as fate intertwines with nature, a thought echoed by the punctuation at the end of the poem, ‘said ‘Now! ’ and each one hears’. The classical form shown by the Roman numerals reveals the timelessness of nature’s influence. Although this is a prominent theme of the poem, fate is Hardy’s main concern.
The classical form is also found in ‘Drummer Hodge’ to emphasise the timelessness of war, an issue that has plagued society for centuries. It also highlights the eternal ‘dusty loam’ where Hodge is ‘laid to rest’, showing that although nature contributes to the poem, Hardy’s compassion for Hodge and men like him is a more prominent theme at the heart of this poem. The alternate rhyme scheme of the poem reflects the rhythm of Hodge’s drum or his everlasting heartbeat as his ‘homely Northern breast and brain’ has become part of the South African landscape.
This is a perfect example of Hardy paying his respects to a supposedly insignificant being, one of the thousands of casualties of the Boer War, and reflects his consideration of the human cost of war, a theme at the heart of many of his war poems. Hardy here shows how out of step he was with his contemporaries, such as Kipling, and paving the way for Owen and Brooke. Although Hardy has no personal experience of war or the South African landscape, he uses jargon, ‘Karoo’ and ‘kopje-crest’ to set the scene, and reveals the horror of war when Hodge is thrown ‘uncoffined – just as found’ to ‘grow to some Southern tree’.
The alliteration of ‘strange stars’ emphasises Hodge’s ignorance of the cause for which he has died. ‘Drummer Hodge’ is a prime example of how Hardy employs the theme of nature in a less obvious way, something which features in several of his most famous works. In conclusion, it is clear that as Hardy employs such a wide variety of topics in his poetry, it is extremely difficult to provide an overview for his work. This is not to say Hardy was not a rural poet; in some of his works, such as ‘Weathers’, he focuses entirely on the world he sees around him. Chestnut spikes’, ‘nestlings fly’ and ‘meadow rivulets overflow’ reveal Hardy’s skill at providing snapshots of the natural world. Nevertheless, in most of Hardy’s most famous poems there are significant underlying themes which are apparent in the texts above. There is no one stereotype under which Hardy can be classified; the reader must bear this in mind when analysing his poetry, and look more deeply into his works rather than only exploring the surface themes.