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Old Words...

I'm planning to use one of my all-time favourite hymns on Sunday, and reverting one of the lines to original form because the word it uses is, in my opinion, especially wonderful.  The word (which is replaced by 'in faith' in the newer versions of the hymn) is "darkling". Acording to the online dictionaries, it means simply "in the dark" but that's not all that helpful, and I don't think is the intent in the hymn.

As part of our English Literature studies at school we 'did' a lot of Thomas Hardy, both prose and poetry.  Among his poetry was this, 'The Darkling Thrush'...

I leant upon a coppice gate
      When Frost was spectre-grey,
And Winter's dregs made desolate
      The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
      Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
      Had sought their household fires.
The land's sharp features seemed to be
      The Century's corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
      The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
      Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
      Seemed fervourless as I.
At once a voice arose among
      The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
      Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
      In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
      Upon the growing gloom.
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.


I would have been about 14-15 when I first came across this poem, and the thrush who sang hopefully into the gloomy darkness.  So around the same age as when I encountered the hymn we'll be using on Sunday.  For me, 'darkling' in the hymn doesn't just mean 'in the dark' but rather, 'hopefully into the dark' or 'hopefully into the unknown'... it has a sense of courage and determination even when the context could all too easily become overwhelming.

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