"The Year's Awakening": A Poem by Thomas Hardy

Updated on May 15, 2019
John Welford profile image

John is a retired librarian who writes articles based on material gleaned mainly from obscure books and journals.

Thomas Hardy
Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardy’s poem “The Year’s Awakening” comprises two stanzas of ten lines each, in the form of rhyming couplets.

Each stanza opens and closes with the words “How do you know?” so that the poem expresses a sense of wonder at the changes that are happening with the onset of spring. Only in the ninth line of each stanza is the reader made aware of the thing being addressed, which adds to the sense of mystery.

First Stanza

How do you know that the pilgrim track
Along the belting zodiac
Swept by the sun in his seeming rounds
Is traced by now to the Fishes' bounds
And into the Ram, when weeks of cloud
Have wrapt the sky in a clammy shroud,
And never as yet a tinct of spring
Has shown in the Earth's apparelling;
O vespering bird, how do you know,
How do you know?

The first five lines sound like a direct reference to the opening of the General Prologue of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, in which the context of the forthcoming pilgrimage is set by reference to the passage of the Sun through the Zodiac: “… and the yonge sonne hath in the Ram his halve cours yronne”. The mention in the first line of “the pilgrim track” surely makes Hardy’s intention clear.

Hardy adds an extra sign of the zodiac by mentioning Pisces (the fishes) as well as Aries (the ram), thus fixing the date in late March when the former changes to the latter.

However, as is typical with Hardy, nature does not always play fair and the optimistic opening of Chaucer’s work, which suggests that winter has been forgotten and that every day will now be mild and sunny, is replaced by reference to “weeks of cloud” that fail to hint that spring is just around the corner. Perhaps Hardy is not being fair to Chaucer, though, because the latter has got April very much in mind whereas Hardy is still stuck in March!

There is another link to Chaucer with the “vespering bird”, in that one of Chaucer’s signs of spring are the “smale foweles” that “maken melodye”. However, Hardy’s bird is not “making melody” with the joyfulness of spring but “vespering”, by which can be understood the vesper bell that summons the faithful to evening worship. That said, although the bird may not be singing very lustily, it is at least singing.

All Hardy can do is ask the question why, despite the signs of spring being so difficult to see, the birds have started to sing. Perhaps they have secret knowledge of the passage of the sun through the zodiac?

Second Stanza

The question in the second stanza is, at heart, the same as that in the first, although addressed to a different subject, namely the “crocus root”:

How do you know, deep underground,
Hid in your bed from sight and sound,
Without a turn in temperature,
With weather life can scarce endure,
That light has won a fraction's strength,
And day put on some moments' length,
Whereof in merest rote will come,
Weeks hence, mild airs that do not numb;
O crocus root, how do you know,
How do you know?

Hardy cannot understand what it is that sparks the crocus into life at the same time every year. As in the first stanza, the weather is still awful but the crocuses are starting to grow.

One might complain that Hardy is not quite correct to state that crocuses can start to grow “without a turn in temperature”, as this is the key that starts their development in early spring, rather than the increase in amount of daylight that Hardy supposes. The change might not be particularly noticeable to humans, given that air temperatures can vary so much from hour to hour, but the rise in soil temperature is much steadier and is enough to produce changes in spring-flowering bulbs.

However, it is still a wonder of the spring to see crocuses emerge in late March and burst into flower as soon as the sunlight hits them. It is hardly surprising that Thomas Hardy, who had a very enquiring mind but training in architecture rather than formal science, should have regarded the emergence of crocuses in spring as being little short of miraculous.

This poem is therefore an expression of wonder at the rebirth of life in spring, which Hardy aptly entitles the “year’s awakening”. Presumably the last few weeks of March 1910 were particularly poor in terms of their weather because Hardy mentions this in both stanzas. However, the harbingers of spring, be they birds or crocuses, have come good yet again, whether they “know” something or not.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • John Welford profile imageAUTHOR

      John Welford 

      14 months ago from Barlestone, Leicestershire

      Hardy is possibly my favourite poet - maybe because we came from the same part of the world!

    • Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

      Gypsy Rose Lee 

      14 months ago from Daytona Beach, Florida

      Thank you for this interesting analysis and the introduction to Thomas Hardy and his poetry.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      14 months ago from Queensland Australia

      An interesting analysis of The Year's Awakening. Thank you for sharing your insight, John.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, owlcation.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://maven.io/company/pages/privacy

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)