Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
So little cause for carolings
Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
Afar or nigh around,
- Once again, the first four lines of the stanza start to bleed into each other. It's almost as if the speaker is gathering momentum as he continues to hear the thrush singing.
- But, as the speaker himself points out, there's no good reason for the bird to be singing. We read about it ourselves: the world is a dead, dead, dead place. So why all this song?
- Well, you've got us. Frankly, you've got our speaker, too. He can't seem to figure out why the bird wouldn't match his pitch to his surroundings. After all, that's what our speaker has done. The world seems crummy and depressing? Fine. I'll write a crummy and depressing poem. Satisfied?
- But now our speaker's questioning his own choices. Sure, he's not doing it outright. After all, would you back down and change your mind in the middle of a poem you've been working really hard to finish? But we can see that the speaker's starting to understand that there might be other ways to imagine his art than just as a reflection his surroundings. After all, didn't you hear from every elementary school art teacher ever that art should be an expression of your soul? Maybe "ecstasy" doesn't come from without. Maybe it comes from within.
- Of course, true Hardy-style, it's not another human being that brings our speaker this revelation. It's nature. And "art" isn't really "art," exactly. It's a birdsong. But in Hardy's mind, the more natural an art form is, the better.
That I could think there trembled through
His happy good-night air
- OK, the bird is happy. Maybe our speaker's even a little comforted by the thought of the bird's company.
- But he's not going to let on that he's happy. Oh, no. That would be way too cheerful. Instead, he plays it cool. He's not sure that the bird is singing a happy song. He just thinks that he could think the bird is happy. (Whew. How's that for complicated feelings?)
- Notice Hardy's emphasis on the conditional here: instead of remarking that the speaker does think something, he notes that the speaker could think it.
- Could, should, and would are all what our grandparents used to call "weasel words" – they suggest that something's possible, but they don't commit to anything.
- It's sort of like that friend of yours who always says that he could be interested in going out on Friday night. Translated, that means "If there's nothing else for me to do, I might think about coming. But don't bank on it."
Some blessed Hope, of which he knew
And I was unaware.
- Welcome to the twentieth century, folks. Hardy's poem ushers in the century with the last two lines: in them, he captures the worldview of most of the major writers of the next thirty years.
- See, Modernists do want to believe that there's something lovely and wonderful and fulfilling out there in the world. They just can't figure out how to get from their present state of unhappiness, decay, and corruption to that happiness and peace.
- Hardy negotiates the two extremes perfectly here: our speaker can sense Hope, but it's unintelligible to him – and not just because he doesn't happen to speak bird.