Let’s Have Another Martial Poem by Hardy

This memorial at Crewe, England, is typical of memorials that served as cenotaphs for fallen soldiers whose names were not repatriated -- like Drummer Hodge.

This memorial at Crewe, England, is typical of memorials that served as cenotaphs for fallen soldiers whose names were not repatriated — like Drummer Hodge.

We’ve been planning to write something about President-elect Trump’s selections for national security posts and how they compare to the incumbents and recently departed individuals who warmed those chairs during the Obama and Bush administrations, but as of press time for this post (Monday night) he hadn’t named any names.

So instead, we go back to Thomas Hardy. We knew him as a novelist (Tess of the d’Urbervilles; Jude the Obscure), and only when we published a WWI (actually, barely pre-WWI) poem of his did we bother to look him up and learn he is better regarded in English Lit circles for his poetry — or was, before English Lit became the propaganda arm of the Great Buggernaut, in which only race, sex and social justice count, and Hardy is dismissed as a deceased cismale heteronormative cryptofascist, because white.

That’s why you’ll never see a poem like this brief lament of the short life and solitary death of the eponymous Drummer Hodge out of the current crop of would-be literati. Fortunately, Hardy’s stuff, like many others more talented than the post-talent postmoderns, has been written down for our reading pleasure.

They throw in Drummer Hodge, to rest
Uncoffined — just as found:
His landmark is a kopje-crest
That breaks the veldt around:
And foreign constellations west
Each night above his mound.

Young Hodge the drummer never knew —
Fresh from his Wessex home —
The meaning of the broad Karoo,
The Bush, the dusty loam,
And why uprose to nightly view
Strange stars amid the gloam.

Yet portion of that unknown plain
Will Hodge for ever be;
His homely Northern breast and brain
Grow to some Southern tree,
And strange-eyed constellations reign
His stars eternally.

This memorial to the dead was erected at Kimberley, site of a long siege.

This memorial to the dead was erected at Kimberley, site of a long siege.

Hardy here is writing about the then-current Boer War. His vocabulary contrasts “homely” England — “Wessex” was his fictional county used in many works, named for an ancient kingdom, which he overlaid on the topography of rural Dorset where he was born, lived and died — with “strange” South African words: karoo, kopje, veldt, just as informed Britons learned these words in dispatches from war correspondents.

There is no poem this good that was published in a literary poetry magazine this year. Or last year. For all practical purposes, English language poetry is a dead art. Yet, in its grave, “uncoffined; just as found,” poetry from a golden age still sings…

…if one cares to listen.

18 thoughts on “Let’s Have Another Martial Poem by Hardy

  1. Ti

    Love the poem. I’m fascinated with South Africa. Early adulthood I dated a young lady whose mother was an Afrikaner. She hosted many people in their home when they would come to the US to visit. In some respects, Afrikaners remind me of the first settlers to the US. Their ancestors came to the “new” world or “old” depending how the europeans considered it, I don’t know this, and then you’ve got multiple generations of euro/dutch/english white people who are now African “NATIVES”. And as you posted recently the only nuclear power to give up the weapon. AND NOT HAND THE GO BUTTON TO THE NEXT IN CHARGE.

    Favorite movie: Breaker Morant – I believe every soldier should watch this movie.

    1. quiaudetadipiscitur

      I’ve visited SA multiple times and never cease to be amazed at how lovely a country it is. A close friend owns and operates a farm in Natal and I’m always struck by how “wild west” the country is with the notable exceptions of certain Anglicized areas like Nottingham Road/the Midlands. If I weren’t so tied down here in the States, then I’d love to have a go at living there. Absolutely exhilarating place.

      1. LSWCHP

        Argh…..re The Breaker’s poetry, google for “The Brigalow Brigade” I’ve always loved the line “And a pretty rapid party are the Brigalow Brigade”.

      2. Cap'n Mike

        The fact that the man could put 2 words together while awaiting his execution has always amazed me.

        If you encounter any Boers
        You really must not loot ’em!
        And if you wish to leave these shores,
        For pity’s sake, DON’T SHOOT ‘EM!!

  2. loren

    I was struck by the use of the word “homely” when first down to Oz. They and the English use it as we do homey, not as plain or ugly.
    I too have met many South Africans as Perth is a favorite destination for immigrants. Mostly I found them similar to other white folk except hard as nails. To a man they think S. Africa will go the way of Zimbabwe.

    1. Hognose Post author

      Maybe seven or eight years ago SAA flew a whole 747 full of South Effrican aviation buffs into Oshkosh. Great fellows, Anglo and Afrikaner alike (they told me there were some black aviators on the jet too, I just didn’t happen to run into those guys). As God is my witness, at least four different groups of them told me some variation of this bitter joke:
      “What’s the difference between SA and Zim?”

      “About five years.” Rimshot.

      Many of them also asked, on the QT, about immigration to the USA. Just in case they needed to.

      1. quiaudetadipiscitur

        I’ve had some say that to me as well, but the recent elections and the State Report blasting Zuma might mark a turning point. We shall see. Let’s just say that I jokingly call my friends there “soutpiels”. Look it up if you don’t know what it means…

    2. Mike_C

      A curious coincidence that this follows the recent post on Tolkien’s Webley. “The last homely house east of the Sea” (Rivendell) was my introduction to this English meaning of the word “homely”.

      I could get behind granting suitable South Africans green cards en masse if they pledge to live in (and thus help revive) Detroit for some period of time, say 3 or 5 years. Apart from the winter cold, probably nothing they’re not familiar with.

      1. Hognose Post author

        I grew up with that meaning, Mike. An Americans would say “homey,” which to my Old World (British and Irish) relatives has the meaning of American “homely” (although, now that I think about it, “homey=ugly” may be Irish only, while “homely=home-like” is definitely both Irish and British). The Irish twist a lot of English words, even when they’re not James Joyce.

  3. Bill Robbins

    My first Thomas Hardy novel was “The Mayor of Casterbridge.” Hardy created an entire world, so lush with detail and character description. Warms the cockles of my heart.

    Boer = Farmer

    Want some South African sausage? Try Boerwoers (that farmers wurst).

    Good on yah, China.

  4. Docduracoat

    The Boers were the good guys in that war
    No one remembers that the English invented the ” concentration camps” to win the Boer war
    Since the guerrilla warriors lived off the civilians supplying them, the English “concentrated” the women, children and elderly and put them in camps where they died on malnutrition and disease in droves
    They also pursued a scorched earth policy of poisoning wells and salting fields
    At least 26,000 women and children died in these camps over a 2 year period after being forcibly removed from their homes

  5. Bart Noir

    Thanks for the poem. It took my thoughts to Rupert Brooke’s poem, The Soldier, which starts:
    “If I should die, think only this of me;
    That there’s some corner of a foreign field
    That is for ever England. ”
    I guess that was a premonition for Brooke, as he died in 1915 of an infected mosquito bite, while on his way to partake in the Gallipoli mess. There is a spot on a Greek island which is therefore “for ever England”.

  6. Bush in Oz

    Hognose,

    This poem was written by a chap named Mick Colliss and was printed in the Melbourne Herald Sun quite a few years ago, the poem has been on the side of my fridge for many years, I thought that some of your readers may like it.

    Dear Dad,

    Remember that day that you took me to town and we went to the SCG?
    You bought me a flag and we stood on the Hill and I sat on your shoulders to see.
    And remember my words when the game reached its end.
    How I said what I wanted to do?
    I said, ‘That was great, Dad, and when I grow up, I’ll play for Australia too’.

    Well, here I am, Dad, I’ve stayed true to my word but it’s not how I hoped it would be.
    The crowds have all gone and the ground is a mess and there’s nobody cheering for me.
    I’m hungry and cold but I’m starting to sweat, mere words can’t describe how I feel.
    I’m not in a jersey, I’m not wearing shorts and my first cap is made out of steel.
    My gut’s in a knot and I almost feel sick, I’ve gone two whole days without sleep.
    My feet are quite damp for we walked almost the night through mud that was six inches deep.

    I’m nervous as hell and I can’t settle down, I keep wondering how well I’ll do.
    But I guess that’s just normal and how it should be on the eve of my national debut.
    The waiting’s the worst thing, we just sit around.
    What happens is out of our hands.
    We all feel like pawns in a big game of chess.
    Swapping lives for a small stretch of land.
    So many have fallen, it seems such a waste.
    To say this is fun is a lie.

    I’ll do what I’m told and I’ll keep my head down,
    And I’ll pray that the Lord’s on my side.
    Well, Dad, I must go for we’re ready to start, it seems we’ve been given the word.
    The silence is eerie, the boys are all quiet, our heartbeat’s the only sound heard.
    We’ll stick with each other, we’ll fight till we drop,
    we’ll each give far more than our best.
    Tell Mum I am happy, I ask for no more, for this is the ultimate test.

    Your son.

    1. Cap'n Mike

      Excellent Bush, thanks for sharing.
      I wonder when that was originally written?
      The earliest reference on Google is the Sydney Morning Herald from August 2001, but the reference to a steel helmet and other stuff makes me think War to end all wars.

  7. Bush in Oz

    Cap’n Mike, I am unsure when it was written, but the author is living, I do not believe he has a military background, but he is a writer and does have a poetry background. I also assumed it was about the First World War as well.

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