As the year ends, the light fades and the cold of winter deepens, but for a moment a beautiful song of hope is filling the air as it did for Thomas Hardy.
The Song Thrush
Earlier this year I lamented having not heard one of my top favourite songbirds, the Song Thrush. To console me one kind blogging friend sent a link to a recording she had made of a thrush singing in her garden. Thank you Clare. But the story doesn’t end there. On our mid-summer holiday in our rented cottage in the New Forest I was woken early the first morning at 4 am by a song thrush outside our window. It was singing loudly in competition with another thrush further away in the woodland. The recording I made on the ipad is a beautiful reminder of one of my favourite bird songs. We were serenaded all that week by this bird. I will gladly go without sleep to hear this enchanting sound.
The Mistle Thrush
Working at the computer the other day I heard a bird song outside. Singing its heart out at the top of nearby trees in full face of the wind was the relative of the Song Thrush, the Mistle Thrush. The ‘Stormcock’ was living up to its name as our winter countryside clarion. The song is broken and intermittent, unlike the Song Thrush’s clear and melodious thrice-repeated phrases, yet it is still beautiful. A songbird in mid-winter will always get my full and delighted attention. Earlier in the week I had noticed a bird’s alarm call rather like a small football rattle being twirled. Yes, confirmation that this was the same Mistle Thrush that was now singing so beautifully in the rising wind.
Engrossed in my own indoor world I could so easily have missed this moment of glory outside the window. Was this bird saying something to me? Happily, I opened the window and listened with my ipad recording. I now have good recordings of both thrushes to compare and enjoy at my leisure. They will remind me of these special moments with two of my favourite songbirds. I’m relieved to know that these thrushes are still with us.
Thomas Hardy’s Darkling Thrush
Hardy had left his Christian faith early in life, but what came in its place was little comfort. His beautiful, but so very melancholic novels invariably tend to end in despair. Yet in later life he turned to poetry and his poems are so much more positive than the novels. There are occasional wistful insights into something more than his barren atheism allowed, as in ‘The Darkling Thrush’.
Hardy heard his thrush singing as the evening darkness deepened on the last day of the 19th century. In an air of pessimism and gloom he wonders what sort of future the coming 20th century will hold? But the tone changes as he is rather surprised that the bird seems to be so cheerful – ‘Flinging out its soul’ ..‘in full hearted evensong of joy illimited’. Did it have something to sing about of which he was unaware?
…….“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,
With 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.”
Ending the Year in Hope
As the year comes to a wintry end it’s only too easy for winter to get into the soul not just the body. But even then we can, like Hardy, be ‘surprised by joy’ ( as in C.S. Lewis’s story). These two special ‘thrush’ moments for me this year have been such welcome ‘surprises’. They’re a joyful reminder that the blessed Hope that eluded Hardy is still alive. As God’s purposes often do, it began small – as a long-awaited promise. Then that baby was born into that poor human family, so vulnerable in a strange and dangerous place. Yet that coming of Jesus has changed everything. We have every cause for ‘carolings’ at Christmas and on into a New Year.. Even my (always) very early daffodils want to join in! (Yes, the above really is this late December daffodil photo).