The title alludes to this passage from the Old Testament: "Thou art my battle ax and weapons of war: for with thee will I break in pieces the nations" (Jeremiah 51:20) [PVA].
ONLY a man harrowing clods
In a slow silent walk
With an old horse that stumbles and nods
Half asleep as they stalk.
Only thin smoke without flame
From the heaps of couch-grass;1
Yet this will go onward the same
Though Dynasties pass.
Yonder a maid and her wight
Come whispering by:
War's annals will cloud2 into night
Ere their story die.
1. couch-grass: a type of grass with long creeping root-stalks.
2. Some other texts read "fade."
Dated 1915, but first published in the Saturday Review for 29 January 1916. Republished in Poems of War and Patriotism (London: Macmillan, 1916) in the second edition of Moments of Vision.
Transcribed from Edward B. Powley, A Hundred Years of English Poetry. St. Martin's Classics. Toronto: Macmillan,1933. Page 103. Checked against The Works of Thomas Hardy (Ware, Hertfordshire: Wordsworth, 1994), p. 511.
See J. O. Bailey, The Poetry of Thomas Hardy (Chapel Hill, NC: U. N. Carolina P., 1970). ". . . the poem entitled 'The Breaking of Nations' contains a feeling that moved me in 1870, during theFranco-Prussian war, when I chanced to be looking at such an agricultural incident in Cornwall. But I did not write the verses till the war with Germany of 1914, and onwards" (Thomas Hardy in Later Years, p. 178). J.O. Bailey has identified the date of original conception as 18 August 1870, "the day that the bloody battle of Gravelotte was fought" (421-22), the Germans being commanded by King William of Prussia and the French by Marshal Bazaine. [PVA]
Last modified 29 July 2004