A little known poem for Remembrance Day

One of the least read of Thomas Hardy’s works is his epic drama The Dynasts, published in 1910 and set against the background of the Napoleonic Wars.

In her biography, Thomas Hardy: The Time-Torn Man (2006), Claire Tomalin says of The Dynasts that, “It plods along, worthy and banal. Occasionally it becomes ludicrous.” But there are exceptions, such as the dramatic stage directions, which Tomalin describes as “cinematic” (one wonders if Hardy knew Victor Hugo’s chapters on Waterloo from Les Misérables) and passages surmising the effect of the Battle of Waterloo on the local animal, vegetable, and insect life (a typical Hardy viewpoint):

“Trodden and bruised to a miry tomb
Are ears that have greened but will never be gold,
And flowers in the bud that will never bloom.”

Hardy takes a similar homely stance in another passage that the great anti-war poet Wilfred Owen would echo in “Strange Meeting”. Called “The Man He Killed”, it comments on the ludicrousness of war:

“Had he and I but met
By some old ancient inn,
We should have sat us down to wet
Right many a nipperkin!

PoppyBut ranged as infantry,
And staring face to face,
I shot at him as he at me,
And killed him in his place.

I shot him dead because—
Because he was my foe,
Just so: my foe of course he was;
That’s clear enough; although

He thought he’d ’list, perhaps,
Off-hand like—just as I—
Was out of work—had sold his traps—
No other reason why.

Yes; quaint and curious war is!
You shoot a fellow down
You’d treat, if met where any bar is,
Or help to half-a-crown.”

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