The Poetry Place
The Man he Killed - revisited
Good poets are never vague. If they wish to examine a general abstract topic like war or love or injustice, they will make it concrete. It is hard to be moved by abstractions. There are plenty of examples of this in the poetry of Wilfred Owen and other poets of the First World War but Hardy precedes them with, for its time, an extraordinary exercise in empathy. Unlike the War Poets, he has not experienced this himself. He is using his powers of imagination to put himself in someone else’s shoes, as he does in a number of other poems, though perhaps less noticeably. (See also ‘Drummer Hodge’)
Ask students to examine the following:
Compare notes on any of the above points with any other poem of a similar length. This is only 113 words. (If you were to compare by counting syllables, the contrast with other poets’ work - especially of that period - would be even more marked.)
The whole poem is in quotation marks. Where and to whom is the narrator speaking?
‘Queer and curious’ - odd words to use, surely? (An understatement!) Why are these chosen? (We can only guess!) What words might have been used instead?
In case it’s helpful, here are the words of the poem in alphabetical order:
a a although ancient and and and and any as as as at at bar because because but but by clear course curious dead down down enough face face fellow foe foe had had half-a-crown have he he he he he he'd help him him him his his I I I I if in infantry, inn, is is just just killed like 'list many me met met my my nipperkin no of of off-hand old or other out perhaps place quaint ranged reason right sat shoot shot shot should so sold some staring that's thought to to to traps treat us war was was was we wet where why work yes you you'd
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