Decomposition - Poem Essay

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.They all make the blunder of trying to translate our emotion into rhetoric, whereas in this period of suspense rhetoric [. .] is monstrously out of place.” My categories are thematic rather than chronological, and I do not pretend to diagram specific cause-and-effect relationships between Hardy’s war poems and the poetics of modernism.

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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.

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.

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.

Just as in a narrative sequence, “Embarcation” is followed by “Departure”, and with the physical distancing of the boats from the docks there emerges a “keen sense of severance” (5) of the soldiers from their homeland.

These men have not reached the battlefield yet, but they already look different: not only are they belittled by the growing distance (3), but they are also degraded in their dignity as human beings, in that they can no longer exert their free will, and are imaged as nothing more than “puppets in a playing hand” (10).

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.


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