June 2

1840 — Birthdate of Thomas Hardy

 

“The land’s sharp features seemed to be

          The Century’s corpse outleant,

His crypt the cloudy canopy,

          The wind his death-lament.”

— Thomas Hardy, “The Darkling Thrush”

 

You think back on the previous hundred years, like Thomas Hardy did on the last day of the 19th century.  It was a cold English winter for that English novelist and poet, and the bitter weather seemed an ominous commentary on the days to come.

Ever the pessimist, Hardy suspected the next hundred years would be worse.

He wrote a poem on that day, allowing a frail bird’s song to symbolize improbable Hope within that gloomy landscape.

You’d give anything to hear that bird’s song now.  Any bird.

The landscapes you travel are unbearably lifeless.  In ruined cities you call for any survivors; in leafless forests you whistle for the attention of nearby wildlife.  You might as well be standing in the middle of the desert.

Sometimes your shouted words echo back at you from a deep canyon, or from the side of a crumbled building.  At those times, your own voice sounds lifeless.

Hardy’s prediction was a bit early, but he was right.  The world is a corpse.

You whistle again, and think you hear an answer.  Wind through barren trees.  The faint flap of a wings overhead, a distant answering caw.

You look up, and see a faint shape flying towards you.  Its whistle, its song, fills you with momentary hope.

It grows larger, following its mechanical trajectory, singing its way closer.  Like you, it has been seeking any life that remains.