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  • 1 Eötvös Loránd University Department of English H-1146 Budapest AjtósiDürer sor 19-21 Hungary H-1146 Budapest AjtósiDürer sor 19-21 Hungary
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Abstract  

This analysis of Thomas Hardy's The Darkling Thrushemploys philosophical categories borrowed from the works of Herbert Spencer and Karl Jaspers. Thomas Hardy, although he did not attempt to base his poetry on a systematic philosophy, was well-versed in eighteenth and nineteenth century empiricism, positivism, liberalism and evolutionism. He was familiar with Herbert Spencer's philosophy of the Unknowable. Herbert in the 1860scriticised religious theories for the assumption that ultimate reality can be known. He conceived the Unknowable as a constituent part of the universe. Spencer's category was echoed in Hardy's frequent use of the privative prefix, as in the titles Unknowing, The Self-Unseeing, Self-Unconscious., Similarly, The Darkling Thrush concludes with the word “unaware”. The existentialist philosopher Karl Jaspers, though from an antagonistic stance, used a similar category when in the 1930s he claimed that “In not-knowing, absolute consciousness becomes a kind of certainty.” The poem was written and published on the very last days of the 19th century, and thus not only records but also represents what Jaspers called a “boundary situation”. Hardy deals with transcendental hope contradicting human reason. The analysis points out that the metrical form of the poem is responsible for certain religious inference. Hardy used the so-called hymnal stanza, the form of popular church hymns by Isaac Watts, Charles Wesley, William Cowper, and John Keeble, all known to Hardy. The effect is further enhanced by the religious connotations of the word “evensong”in stanza four. However, the contrapuntal structure of the poem carefully counterbalances any easy pathos. In the last verse-sentence the subordinate clause in which the word “Hope” occurs is modified by a non-restrictive adverbial clause. The word “unaware”, left nakedly in the final position, challenges the positive note of “Hope” So, although the vigour of the frail bird defies the emptiness of godless existence, the poem ends on a vacuum-effect. Hardy refuses to deify Nature's defiance, but does not deny the chance of Hope. This “conquered nonknowledge”is his reply to unreasoned hope.