The Darkling Thrush: Rhyme, Form & Meter
We’ll show you the poem’s blueprints, and we’ll listen for the music behind the words.
Rhyming Lines in Iambic Meter
For a guy who's all about apocalypse and ending the earth, Thomas Hardy sure plays it safe when in comes to form. After all, with all that chaos and nothingness out there, it just doesn't make much sense to pay attention to something as trivial as a regular rhyme scheme, does it? Why not go crazy with words that don't sound at all alike?
Well, Hardy doesn't seem to agree. His poem is about as regular as they come (formally speaking, of course). It's divided into four nice, neat stanzas, each of which has eight nice, neat lines. Heck, even the rhyme scheme is as traditional as they come: it's all ABABCDCD. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
Here's what we mean by that. Check out the first stanza:
I leant upon a coppice gate (A)
When Frost was spectre-gray, (B)
And Winter's dregs made desolate (A)
The weakening eye of day. (B)
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky (C)
Like strings of broken lyres, (D)
And all mankind that haunted nigh (C)
Had sought their household fires. (D)
Notice how "gate" rhymes with "desolate" and "gray" rhymes with "day"? Every other line rhymes with each other. That's what we mean when we say it's an ABAB rhyme scheme. It sets up a traditional rocking sort of motion when you read the poem, pulling you through the stanzas by interlocking the rhyming lines.
Even the meter is as normal and humdrum as they come: every other syllable is accented. All through the poem. An unaccented syllable followed by an accented syllable is called an "iamb." So the meter here is considered iambi. Check it out:
I leant u-pon a copp-ice gate
Just like the rhyme scheme, the meter's supposed to be lilting. We'd write out more lines, but frankly, it's making us just a bit seasick.
Why does this matter? Well, you wouldn't think that Hardy would be the sort of guy to serve up the same...