Brian Culhane

Standing by a Coppice Gate, Reading “The Darkling Thrush”
August 14, 2012 Culhane Brian

Standing by a Coppice Gate, Reading “The Darkling Thrush”


The city gate loomed at century’s end,

Left ajar, when a blast-beruffled thrush

Sang to December’s bine-stems. Poor bird.


I pictured it, pitied it. Much later I learned

Coppice was not another word for copper,

Nor bine evergreen exactly. A fire burned


In my head: meanings shape-shifted

Until the dictionary’s won out and the gate

Led to a thicket, bine to a twining plant.


Nevertheless, Hardy’s aged thrush remains

More pigeon than thrush—with a dash of sparrow—

And still as beautiful as its wind-cleft name.


I am fourteen again and the bird’s no older, either,

Though truth insists I cannot tell thrush’s note

(Cold, wet, darkling, midnight’s, London’s)


From the lark’s at heaven’s gate. I read on,

Half right, half wrong. I feel a boy’s joy

That is two parts darkness, one part song.

Brian Culhane’s poetry has appeared widely in such journals as The New Republic,  The Cincinnati ReviewThe Hudson Review, and The Paris Review.  Awarded the Poetry Foundation’s Emily Dickinson Prize, his first book, The King’s Question, was published by Graywolf Press. The recipient of fellowships from Washington State’s Artist Trust, the MacDowell Colony, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, he has taught English for many years at the Lakeside School in Seattle.