Thomas Hardy

Hardy painted by William Strang, 1893
Hardy painted by William Strang, 1893
Although his first volume of poetry was not published until 1898, Hardy wrote his first poem, “Domicilium” in 1856 at the age of 16, and his last poems in 1927, just months before his death in January, 1928. Thus, Hardy’s poetic career spanned more than seven decades, more than twice the length of his career as novelist.

CHANNEL FIRING

That night your great guns, unawares,
Shook all our coffins as we lay,
And broke the chancel window-squares;
We thought it was the Judgement-day

And sat upright. While drearisome
Arose the howl of wakened hounds:
The mouse let fall the altar-crumb,
The worms drew back into their mounds,

The glebe-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 sake
Than you that are helpless in such matters.

‘That this is not the judgement-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 (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,
And Camelot, and starlit Stonehenge.