Wednesday, April 14, 2004

"Channel Firing"
by Thomas Hardy (1840-1928)

That night your great guns, unawares,
Shook all our coffins as we lay,
And broke the chancel window-squares,
We thought it was the Judgment-Day

And sat upright. While drearisome
Arose the howl of wakened hounds:
The mouse let fall the altar-crumb,
The worms drew back into their mounds,

The glebe-cow drooled. Till God called, "No;
It's gunnery practice out at sea
Just as before you went below;
The world is as it used to be:

"All nations striving strong to make
Red war yet redder. Mad as hatters
They do no more for Christ├ęs sake
Than you who are helpless in such matters.

"That this is not the judgment-hour
For some of them's a blessed thing,
For if it were they'd have to scour
Hell's floor for so much threatening....

"Ha, ha. It will be warmer when
I blow the trumpet (if indeed
I ever do; for you are men,
And rest eternal sorely need)."

So down we lay again. "I wonder,
Will the world ever saner be,"
Said one, "than when he sent us under
In our indifferent century!"

And many a skeleton shook his head.
"Instead of preaching forty year,"
My neighbour Parson Thirdly said,
"I wish I had stuck to pipes and beer."

Again the guns disturbed the hour,
Roaring their readiness to avenge,
As far inland as Stourton Tower,
And Camelot, and starlit Stonehenge.


*Rachel Hadas comments:

"Hardy's 'Channel Firing,' written a few months before the outbreak
of World War One, is, alas, perennially relevant and true. It also
commands a mindbending range of tone and scale, from the fearful mouse
and drooling cow and the convivial skeletons to the gruff ("Ha, ha")
voice of God to the far more remote and chilling evocation of places
remote in space and time, but not in their connection to human
violence, at the poem's close. It is somehow characteristic of Hardy,
an unclassifiably great poet, to cram such diverse material into a
short poem whose gesture and overall effect are nevertheless unmixed
in their sheer authority and power."

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