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One of the key contrasts in the poem is that between the poet and other men. The poet is outside, cold and lonely whereas the others are inside, presumably partying for the new century. We can tell of the poet’s isolation when he says, “I leant upon a coppice gate”. This tells us the poet is at the edge of a forest looking in. This is very symbolic as it tells us he is on the edge of the unknown, the edge of darkness which he cannot see through. This shows us the poet’s lack of hope and his depression as he is tired and cannot see through the darkness that is in front of him. In contrast the men are said to be at their “household fires.” This tells us they are warm and secure in their houses whereas the poet is cold and lonely outside. This contrast shows how much hope and joy is missing in the poet’s life as even on a New Year celebration he is outside alone. This conveys the theme of desolation as the poet is alone, cold and depressed whereas the other men are together, warm and happy.
- Another contrast in the play is that between the poet and the thrush. When the poet meets the bird he notices how happy and joyful it is; however he cannot understand how it is so happy when it is outside in the bleakest of conditions. This confusion makes the man even more depressed than he was before and highlights the severity of the poet’s depression. We can tell this when the poet says about the thrush
- “Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew/ and I was unaware”
- This shows us that the poet acknowledges the thrush’s hope and happiness, but cannot accept it as he does not feel the same way. The iambic beat falling on the word “unaware” also highlights his alienation and removal from society. This is important as it shows the contrast between the poet and the thrush. The thrush is experiencing the exact same conditions as the poet but instead of seeing death all around him the thrush sees joy and hope. For example the man describes the wind as being a “death-lament” which suggests the poet sees the wind almost like a death song. This is very depressing and shows how the poet sees his surroundings as being as depressed as he his. In contrast however the thrush is said to sing “In a full hearted even-song”. This contrasts the slow death song of the wind with the joyful, happy song of the thrush. “Full hearted” suggests the thrush is putting its heart and soul into the song and is oblivious to the cold surroundings. This shows how different the poet’s and the thrush’s views of their conditions are and emphasises the poet’s lack of joy and hope. This contrast also highlights the key theme as it shows clearly the man depth of the man’s desolation, as not even a Thrush’s full hearted even song can give him hope in his apathetic life.
Although the thrush is full of joy and happiness, there is a clear contrast between its feelings and the way it looks. The thrush is described as being “frail, gaunt and small,” which makes the bird seem very weak and suggests it has not much hope in life. “Frail” and “gaunt” suggest it lacks a sufficient amount of food and obviously struggles to find it in the tough, harsh conditions. It is also described as having a “blast-beruffled plume.” The repetition of “B” mimics the sound of the wind and highlights the strength of the conditions that the thrush has to face. All these conditions would seem to suggest the bird does not have much hope in its life but still it “flings its soul upon the glowing gloom” and has “joy illimited”. This suggests that its joy is endless and it does not notice the harsh conditions it finds itself in.