Discussion Questions on Thomas Hardy's "Channel Firing" (1914)

Philip V. Allingham, Faculty of Education, Lakehead University, Thunder Bay, Ontario

CHANNEL FIRING (1914)

Thomas Hardy

That night, your great guns, unawares,
Shook all our coffins 1 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 the mounds.

The glebe 2 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 Christés 3 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 4 (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. 5
And Camelot, 6 and starlit Stonehenge. 7

Notes

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.

QUESTIONS

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.


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Last modified 14 May 2001