My favorite poem, by Thomas Hardy, and a few thoughts to follow.
The Darkling Thrush
I leant upon a coppice gate, when frost was spectre gray,
and winter's dregs made desolate the weakening eye of day.
The tangled binestems 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 fervorless as I.
At once a voice arose amid the bleak twigs overhead,
in a full-hearted evensong of joy illimited.
An ancient 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.
Hardy wrote "The Darkling Thrush" on December 31, 1899, perhaps as the lament to the closing century, and an expression of concern for times to come.
There is little evidence Hardy was a believer, although he was fairly well-versed in Biblical thought (as indicated by poem's conclusion regarding "some blessed Hope," a decidedly Christian expression of confidence in the Lord Jesus Christ amid a dark and fallen world - Titus 2:13). When I first discovered the poem many years ago, I was unfamiliar with Hardy, and thought he must have been a Christian. Indeed, few literary characters more express to me the attitude and expression to which believers are called than the thrush of Hardy's imagination. "To fling his soul upon the growing gloom" because he viewed a hope that others could not see seems to me a particularly vivid description of the life of faith to which God calls his trusting children. Thus, I love the darkling thrush, and long to follow his example of being what several friends and I refer to as "soulflingers."
I find it fascinating that an unbeliever could have written so powerful an image of trust "amid the growing gloom." This points to the truth that God can reveal much of Himself and His truth even in those who do not know Him. All exist in His creation, and all "live and move and have their being" in Him (Acts 17:28). Thus, all will somehow serve His purposes, whether wittingly and joyfully, or not. Of the Lord Jesus and His incarnation, the Apostle John declared, "the Light shineth in darkness" (John 1:5). The illumination continues, and while the untrusting soul most often purveys darkness, God nevertheless often reveals His light in and through those who refuse to respond to it themselves. "Yea, the darkness hideth not from Thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to Thee" (Psalm 139:12).
Most importantly, the darkling thrush calls born again believers in the Lord Jesus to see the Light that always "shineth in darkness." We are the voices of hope, the "blessed Hope," in a world that either has no hope, or that places its confidence in false and doomed expectations. Our Heavenly Father would have us fling our souls upon the growing gloom by personally rejoicing in the Lord Jesus, and by bearing witness to the reason for our song and testimony. He is more than able and willing to birth such hope in us, and then send us forth as soulflingers unto a lost and dying world. Hardy's darkling thrush serves as a beautiful example of our high and holy calling, and as a testimony to the power of the risen Christ, who "giveth songs in the night" (Job 35:10).
"And the multitude rose up together against them: and the magistrates rent off their clothes, and commanded to beat them. And when they had laid many stripes upon them, they cast them into prison, charging the jailor to keep them safely: who, having received such a charge, thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks. And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God."