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Friday 9 December 2011

Thomas Hardy: The Caged Goldfinch

File:Goldfinch New Zealand.jpg

European Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis), Dunedin, New Zealand: photo by Benchill, 13 October 2007

Within a churchyard, on a recent grave,
......I saw a little cage
That jailed a goldfinch. All was silence save
......Its hops from stage to stage.

There was inquiry in its wistful eye,
......And once it tried to sing;
Of him or her who placed it there, and why,
......No one knew anything.


European Goldfinches (Carduelis carduelis): photo by Monster 2000, 2008

European Goldfinches (Carduelis carduelis) in February, Moscow region: photo by Villa16, February 2009


Spanish Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis parva), looking for water, Sevilla: photo by Fernando Zamora, 15 January 2008

File:Carduelis caniceps F.JPG

European Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis caniceps), female, caged: photo by Freegiampi, 20 August 2006

Thomas Hardy: The Caged Goldfinch, from Moments of Vision, 1917


Julia said...

So colorful, so beautiful!

TC said...


El jilguero europeo -- es que cómo se debe llamar? -- Tan bella y tan hermosa canción!

ACravan said...

Sad and thoughtful though this is, the poem is also a sudden reminder of how wonderful poetry can be. Thank you for placing it here. As I believe I've mentioned, our birds pretty much fly free, although within a large room. I think they're very happy, receive a great deal of company and maintain indecipherable (to us) but constant interaction with life outside the house. Their stage-to-stage hopping mostly occurs outside/on top of their cage, which is more home base than anything else. At the moment, they're singing along to "Forever" by Roy Wood. Curtis

Julia said...

Tom, aquí está cantando un zorzal, se oyen muchos en la ciudad en esta época del año.

Curtis, do you have birds in a room? This is fantastic!

TC said...

Leave it to Hardy, great poet that he is, to find something sad about Goldfinch song. It's like Keats' remark about putting something in a Vale, and then dressing it up with a bit of mist.

Lo! Yon misty Vale! Always more poetically sad there!

But I suppose a cemetery has it all over a Vale when it comes to forlorn.

And yet... Holy Moly, Curtis, those are certainly some unselective birds you've got there!

Merely listening along, I am nearly giddy with flight!

Where hath fled my sadness, now that I need it to accompany the damp chill and ice mists of the encroaching winter dawn!

TC said...

Julia, en esta época del año, cuando está oscuro y frío aquí, tu mundo brillante siempre flota en mi mente como un paraíso imaginado!

Zorzal Colorado (Turdus rufiventris)

Canto del Zorzal

(By the way, I am certain Curtis would never lie, especially about his birds... another earthly paradise I enjoy imagining...)

ACravan said...

Yes, Julia. The birds live in the room my wife uses as an office. It's both a peaceful and an active place. Tom: The birds are BIG Roy Wood fans. I think their favorite song of his, though, is Ball Park Incident (Wizzard). Obviously, they're compelled to listen to whatever is playing through the computer. To paraphrase the Chaz-Michael Michaels character in Blades of Glory, they haven't learned (yet) to "work the Google on the internet machine." The arrangement of photos here is eloquent. So is the caption, simple though it is, on the bottom picture. Curtis

Julia said...

tu blog siempre es lumninoso... ¡qué importa el clima exterior!

Julia said...

your wife`s room sound like a wunderkamer!

Nin Andrews said...

Did Hardy ever write anything that was not gloomy? Such lovely birds . . .
It's amazing how much can go on in those tiny bird brains, as Curtis points out. Maybe size isn't everything.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Loving Hardy, we all love the gloom. Beautiful pix. Thanks Tom.



Hardy's poem is, well, SO Hardy -- "a recent grave . . . a little cage/ That jailed a goldfinch. All was silent . . . its wistful eye,/ And once it tried to sing . . . No one knew anything." (The 'broken' meter of that last line gets it all -- the feeling, the broken heart.) Those European goldfinches sure are different from their American brethren, no?


first grey light in sky above blackness
of ridge, silver of planet below branch
in foreground, wave sounding in channel

increased height of the sun,
composition elemental

in that it gathers, what is
also read, in letters

silver line of sun reflected in channel,
gull landing on triangular tip of GROIN

Anonymous said...

No one, indeed . . .

Reminds me of that wonderful Townes van Zandt lyric, "Maybe she just has to sing for the sake of the song."

TC said...

The luminosity that oddly pervades (suffuses?) the gloom in the room is veritably numinous.

A wünderkamer with a magician teasing its gossamer cobwebs to float in the air, or an abandoned barn with a pitchfork being thrust into a shapeless form writhing in a burlap sack upon the bestial floor?

Is there ever not gloom in the Hardy room?

"Is there room in the room that you room in?" -- The House of Hardy, just another of poetry's many cobwebby, mouldy haunted mansions?

The issue of the sadness in Hardy being the distinguishing feature is brought up by Philip Larkin (a later poet who felt much sympathy with Hardy, though his own acute sadness was laced with a self-biting irony which probably would have appalled Hardy), in a comment I've just now cited toward the bottom of today's posting of Thomas Hardy:The Darkling Thrush.

But, "all that being said"... a little voice reminds me that we should remember too that for Hardy, as for (say) Williams, no observation was ever "too small" to make a poem of. So -- as has been pointed out in a comment as bright and sharp and sweet and sudden as a goldfinch's song, from the another room of gloom here in the house of galloping gloom, we can be pretty certain TH really did see that cage with a goldfinch in it, singing away bleakly there on that recent grave.

What's "real", anyway, really, in poetry, unless someone makes it so?

Was that gravedigger whose shadow is barely perceptible just out of the corner of the picture really Lon Chaney?

Did Williams Carlos Williams really see that wheelbarrow in the rain?

Did he really eat those plums?

Did TS Eliot really roll up his trouser cuffs, and eat a peach?

And who was that third who walked beside him, there, in the gloom, in the ice-fog?

Could it have been old Thomas Hardy, hiking out over the Downs on a gloomy, melancholy early winter morning poem hunt?

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Tom, my head is spinning from your comment - such delight may be had in sadness and, too, poetry.


PS My love for Hardy knows no bounds.

Anonymous said...

When we had birds in our living room they used to sit in the bookshelves and nibble the books around the edges. In the end we confined them to the kitchen, where they could only eat the cookery books.


TC said...


Over the several stages of our wanderings there has inevitably been a bird or two that, also foolishly wandering, has made its way into our places of habitation. There would then ensue a great panic of fluttering and flapping before the poor creature could be coaxed out a window (or, less happily, did itself in by injuring itself in its haste to get away).

I'm suffering from a bit of a permanently bent out of shape wing, myself, but perhaps I can make it flap about sufficiently to hunt and peck up a morsel from Marguerite Yourcenar's wonderful essay "On Some Lines from the Venerable Bede".

"... Asked to give his opinion on the introduction of a god named Jesus into Northumberland, this thane, whose name is unknown to us, broadened, as it were, the discussion:

"'The life of man on earth, My Lord, in comparison with the vast stretches of time about which we know nothing, seems to us to resemble the flight of a sparrow, who enters through a window in the great hall warmed by a blazing fire in the center of it where you feast with your councilors and liege men, while outside the tempests and snows of winter rage. And the bird swiftly sweeps through the great hall and flies out the other side, and after this brief respite, having come out of the winter, he goes back into it and is lost to our eyes. Such is the brief life of man, of which we know neither what goes before nor what comes after...'"

And Yourcenar comments on this -- which comes down from Bede's Latin prose via the rough Anglo-Saxon of Alfred -- as follows:

"For Christians, despite their belief in a blessed or infernal immmortality, what will follow after death (they pay little attention to what came before life) is perceived, above all, as eternal rest. Invideo, quia quiescunt, said Luther as he contemplated tombs. For this barbarian, in contrast, the bird issues from a storm and returns into a tempest; these lashings of rain and this wind-tossed snow in the Druidic night might make one think of the whirling of atoms or of the whirlwinds of forms in the Hindu Sutras. Between these two horrendous storms, the thane interprets the flight of the bird across the hall as a moment of respite (spatio serenitatis). That is quite surprising. Edwin's thane knew perfectly well that a bird which has flown into a house of men darts about madly, running the risk of dashing itself against those incomprehensible walls, of burning itself in the fire, or of being snapped up by the hounds lying next to the hearth. Life as we know it is hardly a moment of respite."


I must admit to the same serious lack of boundary-issues when it comes to Hardy.

Perhaps there is a twelve-step program for the likes of us.

But in the end... there we'll find ourselves, back with the glebe cow's drool, lapping it all up.

Thomas Hardy: Channel Firing.

Anonymous said...

Oh, a marvelous metaphor from the thane and an even marvelouser response! I'll have to get that essay. Thank you very much for the quotation, Tom. I'm sorry about your wing.


TC said...


It's (I mean the Yourcenar piece, not the wing) to be found in a collection of her essays: "That Mighty Sculptor, Time". Well worth looking into.