Drummer Hodge Essay

Published: 2021-06-29 01:47:17
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Category: Poetry

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Compare the poems ‘Drummer Hodge’ and ‘A wife in London’ by Thomas Hardy. You must comment on both subject matter and style. ‘Drummer Hodge’ is an elegy for a Wessex drummer-boy who was killed during the Boer War. Thomas Hardy was already a famous novelist and poet, and was so touched by this story in his local Dorset newspaper that he decided to write the poem. Similarly, ‘A Wife in London’ is also about the human cost of war, but unlike ‘Drummer Hodge’ who is a soldier who dies abroad, ‘A Wife in London’ is told from the perspective of the civilians who were left behind.
‘Drummer Hodge’ gets its title from the common nickname for a West country labourer. However, Hardy was disapproving of the stereotype and believed that labourers were as unique and individual as any other people, and he used the word Hodge to name the drummer boy as a deliberate way of bringing respect to it. He achieves this by the end of the poem by making up for the absent burial service and some kind of ceremony with the tone of the last verse. From the harsh, callous tone of the first, and the absurdness that the second verse conveys, the third verse seems to restore some dignity with an almost prayer-like tone:
‘And strange-eyed constellations reign His stars eternally. ‘ (17-18) It’s the word ‘eternally’ that reminds us the most of a prayer or a hymn and you can almost hear the word ‘Amen’ after it. We can tell how passionately Hardy disapproves of the Boer War too when in his very opening lines he describes the young drummer-boy being ‘thrown’ into his grave without any burial ceremony: ‘Uncoffined – just as found’ (2) The harshness and total lack of dignity that these lines conjure up seems to be Hardy’s comment on what war reduces us to rather than death itself.
The whole poem is his way of criticising how casually the lives of ordinary people were used up as ‘cannon fodder’ by war. In the end, but only because Hardy has written about it in a poem, what starts out seeming like the worst possible ending to a life gets converted into something lasting. Drummer Hodge doesn’t have a proper grave but he has a ‘kopje-crest’ which is the crest of an outcrop of rock in the middle of the open ‘veldt’. Hardy makes this sound like a natural headstone marking the drummer-boy’s grave.
At first his use of Boer words to describe the scene in verse two make it seem even more wrong that this young Wessex boy, who would never have been abroad before, is buried in a place he wouldn’t even have understood. But by the end a ‘portion of that unknown plain Will Hodge for ever be’ which Hardy has a way of making us feel is just as dignified and lasting as any monument in a graveyard. In this way, the structure of the poem in three sections is ideal because it is like the beginning, middle and end of a story which I think people would have been able to relate to easily.
A poem like ‘Drummer Hodge’ would probably have made it more bearable for all the people who wanted to bury their soldiers ‘properly’ but couldn’t, and had to live with the thought of them lying in the ground somewhere abroad. ‘A Wife in London’ is a war poem about the other casualties – the ones that stay behind at home. It’s about a woman who gets the worst possible news that her husband has died in action, which is bad enough. But Hardy has structured the poem in two halves so that he can extend the ‘story’ to the next day.
Just as we’re wondering why because it seems the main point of the poem has already been made, Hardy uses a cruel twist of fate where she gets a letter from her husband after she knows he is already dead which is like a double blow. It’s particularly cruel because it’s ‘Page-full of his hoped return’ (17) and we realise that the real message isn’t about the shock of a soldier dying, it’s about the pure waste of a life and two futures that the war has caused.
Hardy builds up a foreboding atmosphere right from the start with classic almost film-like imagery of a thick London fog and dark, dismal streets. The ‘Tawney vapour’ conveys a gloomy mood and even the glimmer of the street lamps is ‘cold’. It’s as if the wife is breathing the same smoke and fumes of the battlefield as her husband. Then the tension builds dramatically with the messenger’s knock at the door – the sound that everyone in wartime would have dreaded – and even though the telegram is short and sharp, the shock is so great ‘Of meaning it dazes to understand’ (8).
The imagery at the start of the second half of the poem gets even uglier as death is described in detail: ‘His hand, whom the worm now knows. ‘ (15) I think both poems are equally successful in their different way at getting across Hardy’s main message that war is a terrible waste of life, but I think ‘Drummer Hodge’ is more important because it must have been worse for the men living and dying at the sharp end than for anybody they left behind.
However, I don’t like poetry as a medium because it is too condensed. Because it has to be a limited piece of work it has to become almost like a code that needs footnotes and explanations to understand it. Obviously there hasn’t always been a visual way like newsreels of getting things across, and in lots of other ways poetry is useful, but for a huge and complex subject like war, I think poetry isn’t the best medium. 987 Words. G. C. S. E English Coursework Courtney Bishop.

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