Hardy’s battlefield closely resembles a wasteland of physical and spiritual desolation, where the hollow noises of artillery resound on a surface as barren as the eve of the battle, but also as crowded with dead bodies as the day after.
Hardy’s battlefield closely resembles a wasteland of physical and spiritual desolation, where the hollow noises of artillery resound on a surface as barren as the eve of the battle, but also as crowded with dead bodies as the day after.The text hinges on the semantic field of decomposition, no longer conceived in the traditional meaning of pastoral regeneration, but rather as the disfigurement and progressive annihilation of the human being. Along with the concept of deformation, here the writer hints at the concept of war as a process of levelling and dispersal of the soldiers’ individuality.“The Colonel’s Soliloquy” deals with another aspect of man’s metamorphosis, the changes brought about by time and experience.
The much debated issue of the political side the poet took—whether in favour of patriotism and imperialism, as a few texts such as “Men Who March Away” seem to show, or against military actions, as most of the poems seem to suggest—does not in the least impinge on the evidence that these lines deal with the reality of war and its disastrous consequences, rather than dwelling on a linguistic limbo of verbal irresponsibility, made of abstract feelings and political or philosophical ideals.
Hardy’s own interspersed comments on this issue mark the distance between his stance and that of his contemporaries, but it is Edmund Gosse who points out the quality of realism which informs his poetics: “You are the only poet, up to date, who has said anything worth singing.
Even though Hardy’s war poems are scattered over two collections and range from the late Victorian age to the eve of Modernism, they do not reflect the climate of justification and glorification of war of the imperialist age.
On the contrary, this reading of a sequence of war poems aims to show how Hardy utterly divests warfare of its glorious imperialistic connotations, in order to uncover its core of folly and waste.
Thirty years later, in 1930, Mary Borden would describe a French territorial regiment straight from the trenches in these terms: “And they were all deformed, and certainly their deformity was the deformity of the war. Alive or dead, the soldiers at war are all similar, or even all the same, and therefore non-referential.
This concept leads us to a fundamental poem in the sequence, “Drummer Hodge”, where Hardy brings forth and develops to its utmost extent the metaphor of death as decomposition, along with powerful connotations of alienation and existential uneasiness.The of Hardy’s war poems: the first is the lack of dignity underlying life and death at war, which is remarkable in the choice of the anonymous pronoun ‘they’ and in the action of violently ‘throwing’ a bare body into the ground, as if to get rid of it quickly, with no care for its state of utter defencelessness against physical agents.This disturbing picture leads to the second level of the metaphor of death—that is, to the soldier’s dislocation from his homeland and the consequent alienation from the landscape that surrounds him.Likewise, war itself taught the poets lessons as well: T. Eliot’s is commonly understood as reproducing the sounds and images of trench warfare and its aftermath.What I am interested in tracing is not the particulars of those exchanges but the patterns that emerge as appropriate to both the experience of war and the experience of a world shaken in its beliefs already at the end of the 19th century.We can read some instances of this feeling of displacement in Kipling’s poems on the Boer War, in particular in “Bridge-Guard in the Karroo”, where dystopia is imaged as the onset of darkness: “And the darkness covers our faces,/ And the darkness re-enters our souls” (59-60), and more explicitly in “The Dykes”, where the nihilistic War has always been a violent, crude and brutalising event, but what might appear plain matter of fact to the contemporary artist and reader, was far from being acknowledged by intellectuals or accepted by the reading public in 1899.Therefore, I will try to analyse the ways in which Hardy turns an issue that was, aesthetically speaking, almost taboo, into a poetic object that expresses in explicit and realistic terms the “inexorable senseless tragedies” of war.Thus, with the second appearance of the wife’s timid ‘tears’ (30), the section approaches the issue of the psychological violence of war and of the suffering of the beloved.“The Going of the Battery” is a poetical sketch tinted in grey hues: the soldiers’ wives are faced with the concrete aspect of war, and stare at the “great guns” (9), “upmouthed to the night” (10) but “blank of sound” (12).Reading Hardy’s poems, in fact, one can sense that both soldiers and artists seem gradually to have experienced an anticipation of the disconcerting climate of modernism—for example, in the process of destabilization and re-creation of a poetics of death in war.If, as Ruskin and his romantic precursors indicated, identity is location, then imperialism has made the geography of Englishness a geography of displacement.