by Amanda Higgin
Xanda and I sit in the window seat of the cafe, watching Oxford as it slips into darkness. People below are barely distinguishable coats laden with bags as they scuttle through the damp streets towards some dry, artificially lit haven. Some dusks are beautiful blends of mystery and sunset blush; tonight is not one of those. The grim gloom is wearily mundane, a tedious envoy of winter.
“I’m not looking forwards to going out in that,” I say gloomily. The mood is produced jointly by the depressing weather and the Greek homework waiting on my desk in college.
“Pathetic fallacy,” Xanda laughs, a little bitterly. We have just been discussing the US president-elect; my preparations for the Apocalypse are countered by Xanda’s reserved optimism that he’s all Bark and no Bite.
We stare out of the window together, and I feel a strain of that pretentious melancholy which can only be satisfied by poetry.
“I lean against a café’s sill, When frost is spectre-grey, And Winter’s dregs make desolate The weakening eye of day.” I gesture to the shoppers below, “And all mankind that haunts nigh Do seek their household fires.”
Xanda smiles a little, and for a moment allows me to think that my poorly-adapted relic of GCSE English has been the best expression of our common feelings. Then she answers my melancholy with Hardy’s original words as the eponymous thrush, ‘frail, gaunt and small’, appears from the shadows.
“At once a voice arose among
The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
Of joy illimited.
So little cause for carolings
Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
And I was unaware.”
For a moment, Hope hangs in the air. Xanda finishes her thought, “The night always passes.”
“But the darkness is no lighter just because the morning will follow it,” I return.
“Maybe,” Xanda shrugs, “but it’s never night everywhere. And until the dawn comes we can choose whether we are self-pitying Hardys or optimistic thrushes.”
“Meanwhile,” I quip as together we watch the last glow fade from the sky, “the night is dark and full of terrors.”
Poem: Thomas Hardy, ‘The Darkling Thrush’