"Proud Songsters" by Thomas Hardy



The thrushes sing as the sun is going,
And the finches whistle in ones and pairs,
And as it gets dark loud nightingales
                In bushes
Pipe, as they can when April wears,
        As if all Time were theirs.

These are brand-new birds of twelve-months'                                                                    growing,
Which a year ago, or less than twain,
No finches were, nor nightingales,
                Nor thrushes,
But only particles of grain,
        And earth, and air, and rain.

In 1926 Virginia Woolf visited the 86-year-old Thomas Hardy at his home in Dorchester, Dorset. He was, she wrote, "extremely affable and aware of his duties." What impressed her most was "his freedom, ease and vitality" (A Writer's Diary, edited by Leonard Woolf, 1953).

Those three words also fit the poems he was working on at the time, which showed undiminished powers of observation, reflection and metrical invention. And Hardy was prolific: by the time of his death in January 1928, he had written, rewritten or selected 105 poems for an eighth collection of his poetry. It was published the following October, with the title Winter Words

The work was drawn from five decades; "Proud Songsters" was placed near the head of the book, and it has remained one of Hardy's best known poems. A few years later, Gerald Finzi set the poem for tenor and piano, finding music that follows the progress of the words, from the matter-of-fact first stanza to the wonderstruck second.

There are many poems about spring, but this is one of my favorites: as quiet as an April morning, but pulsing with life, like spring itself.



Hardy at the Garrick Theatre, London for a production of Tess of the D'Ubervilles in December 1926 (Courtesy of The National Portrait Gallery)

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