The Thrush by Edward Thomas

The Thrush’ is one of Thomas’s lesser-known poems, but it is well worth reading all the same. Within it, Thomas speaks creatively on the passage of time. He uses several literary devices, including imagery and apostrophe in order to vividly depict the differences he thinks there are between a thrush’s perspective on life and human beings’. One sees time quite differently, he believes, from another. 

The Thrush by Edward Thomas

 

Summary

The Thrush’ by Edward Thomas is a beautiful poem in which the poet explores time and the seasons, focusing on how different the human experience is from the thrush’s.

Throughout the stanzas of ‘The Thrush,’ the speaker addresses a thrush he can see signing on a branch. He wonders about the bird’s thought process and if it has any idea about the passing of the seasons. Does it know, he thinks, about November and April? Or does it live only in happy moments and sad ones, ones in which it can’t sing and ones in which it can. It’s the latter that he decides upon and he concludes the poem by suggesting that there is some beauty in this perspective on life. 

 

Themes 

In ‘The Thrush,’ Thomas engages with themes of nature, time, and perceptions of reality. The speaker spends the poem discusses the differences in how he views the world versus how the thrush does. He doesn’t look down on the bird’s reality, instead, he elevates it and celebrates the differences with his own. The speaker is capable of taking joy in nature during spring and looking forward to the coming life during winter, he thinks the bird lives differently. It does not perceive time as he does, as a pattern of seasons, but instead as a cycle of happier and sadder moments. 

 

Structure and Form

The Thrush’ by Edward Thomas is an eight-stanza poem that is divided into sets of four lines, known as quatrains. These quatrains follow a simple rhyme scheme of ABCA, changing end sounds from stanza to stanza. The meter is less structured, without a perfect, unified rhythmic pattern although the lines are quite similar in length visually. 

 

Literary Devices

Thomas makes use of several literary devices in ‘The Thrush,’ these include but are not limited to anaphora, enjambment, and apostrophe. The latter is an interesting technique that involves the speaker talking to someone or something that can’t hear or reply to them. In this case, the poet is talking to the thrush in almost every stanza. It is also important to consider how many of these lines are genuinely directed to the thrush and how many are just musings in the speaker’s mind that concern the thrush. 

Anaphora is a type of repetition that occurs when the poet repeats a word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines. For example, two lines in stanza one start with “When.” Additionally, two lines of stanza four begin with “And.” Enjambment is a formal device, one that’s concerned with the way in which a poet ends lines. If the line is cut off before the end of the sentence or phrase, it is likely enjambed. For example, the transition between lines two and three of the first stanza as well as lines one and two of the second stanza. Readers have to go down to the next line in order to find out how the former concludes. 

 

Analysis, Stanza by Stanza

Stanzas One and Two

When Winter’s ahead,

What can you read in November

That you read in April

When Winter’s dead?

 

I hear the thrush, and I see

Him alone at the end of the lane

Near the bare poplar’s tip,

Singing continuously.

In the first stanza of ‘The Thrush,’ the speaker directs his words to “you.” Although it is not clear at this point, the “you” in this piece is the thrush named in the title. A thrush is a common songbird, usually spotted with a brown back. Without the knowledge that Thomas’ speaker is talking to a bird, these lines are harder to interpret, meaning that it is useful to read this piece more than once. 

In the stanza, he asks the bird how it “read[s]” one month and season in comparison to another. The word “read” is being used here as a replacement for ‘understand’, ‘interpret’, or ‘experience’. He’s curious, as he is throughout the rest of the stanzas, how the bird’s experience of the world differs from that of a human being. 

The second stanza resembles an aside, a bit of information that’s tangential to the rest. Here, he speaks in first person, describing the thrush at the “end of the lane” on the “bar popular’s tip.” The bird is there, singing continuously. 

 

Stanzas Three and Four 

Is it more that you know

Than that, even as in April,

So in November,

Winter is gone that must go?

 

Or is all your lore

Not to call November November,

And April April,

And Winter Winter—no more?

The third and fourth stanzas go back to addressing the bird. The third mentions “April” and “November.” One month represents the spring season and another the coming winter months. He goes back and forth in these two stanzas, considering whether or not the bird understands the seasons as he does or if it interprets them differently. Perhaps the thrush has no concept of winter or April and instead just lives. He uses the word “lore” in the fourth stanza as a way of alluding to the bird’s understanding of the world. 

 

Stanzas Five and Six 

But I know the months all,

And their sweet names, April,

May and June and October,

As you call and call

 

I must remember

What died into April

And consider what will be born

Of a fair November;

In contrast to how the bird might understand the time and the seasons, the speaker says that he knows all the months and their names. He lives through them as the bird calls and calls its song out. He, unlike the bird, must remember what’s lost when winter comes around and what will be born out of November. There are deeper sorrows and joys in his life, he thinks, then there might be in the bird. 

 

Stanzas Seven and Eight 

And April I love for what

It was born of, and November

For what it will die in,

What they are and what they are not,

 

While you love what is kind,

What you can sing in

And love and forget in

All that’s ahead and behind.

The final two stanzas summarize the differences between the bird’s perspective, or Thomas’ idea of it, and the speaker’s perspective. Human beings take joy in the birth of new life and must find joy in the prospect of it on the other side of winter. While birds “love what is kind” and what they can “sing in.” They don’t dig so deeply into months and years as humans do. They “love and forget in / All that’s ahead and behind.” While these animals are simpler than human beings are, they also, Thomas thinks, have a joyful way of living. 

 

Similar Poetry

Readers who enjoyed ‘The Thrush’ should also consider reading some of Edward Thomas’ other best-known poems. For example, The Sign-Post,’ ‘Aspens,’ and Haymaking.The latter is a pastoral poem that describes a landscape and its laborers, all of whom are impacted differently by the passage of time. In ‘The Sign-Post,’ Thomas discusses time, Heaven, and nature. The speaker thinks about what’s ahead of him and what he should do with himself next. In ‘Aspens,’ Thomas focuses on grief and the role poetry has to play in the preservation of memory. 

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