CHANNEL FIRING (1914)
That night, your great guns, unawares,
And sat upright. While drearisome
The glebe 2 cow drooled. Till God called, "No;
"All nations striving strong to make
"That this is not the judgment hour
"Ha, ha. It will be warmer when
So down we lay again. "I wonder,
And many a skeleton shook his head.
Again the guns disturbed the hour,
1 It has been common practice in England for hundreds of years to bury the dead under the floors or in the basements (crypts) of village churches and cathedrals.
2 A parcel of land adjoining and belonging to the local church is the "glebe." Cows were grazed there to keep the grass short.
3 Before Shakespeare's time, the possessive form of most singular nouns ended in "es" rather than the modern "'s." In the countryside, this old-fashioned possessive continued in use well into the eighteenth century.
4 According to Judeo-Christian and Arab traditions, at the end of time God will command the angel Gabriel to blow a great trumpet to signal the Last Judgment. This will follow the ultimate destruction of the world, when God will judge each soul as good or evil, and pronounce its salvation or its doom (see "Revelation" 20: 11-15 in the Bible).
5 Stourton Tower commemorates King Alfred the Great's defeat of the Viking invaders in A.D. 879.
6 Camelot is the legendary location of the court of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table.
7 Stonehenge is a group of gigantic stones on Salisbury Plain, probably built as a temple to the Sun and Moon between 2500 and 1000 B. C.
1. How does the reader become aware of the identity of the persona or the speaker?
2. Which words establish the poem's tone as ironic and cynical?
3. In terms of twentietyh-century history, what events outside the realm of the dead have momentarily interrupted their etyernal sleep?
4. What is God's attitude towards humanity in this poem?
5. Words such as "drearisome" (5)," howl" (6),"hounds" (6)," worms" (8), and "mounds" (8) create what kind of mood?
6. Why does Parson Thirdly wish that instead of preaching he "had stuck to pipes and beer"?
7. In what two rather different senses is Parson Thirdly the speaker's "neighbour"?
8. The theme concerns the painful knowledge of the dead and the utter ignorance of the living. In what ways does Hardy so the dead as "knowing" and the living as "ignorant"?
9. How does Hardy convey the belief that war is pointlessly destructive, no matter what its justification?
10. Why "Christes sake" rather than "Christ's sake"?
11. In what ways does the poem resemble the dramatic monologues of Tennyson and Browning?
12. The voices in this poem offer three perspectives about the human condition. How has the poet has employed these three different voices to offer three different views about humanity and its problems?
13. Hardy's poem about the Boer War, "Drummer Hodge," also depends for effect upon dramatic contrasts, but these have to do primarily with the soldier and his environment; however, ignorance, lack of understanding, is also an issue there: compare the two poems and what they reveal of Hardy's attitude to war.
Last modified 14 May 2001