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:

  • the use of personal pronouns – how many there are, how they are juxtaposed;
  • the punctuation, especially the dashes – the amount, variety and effect;
  • the vocabulary choices – length of words, simplicity / difficulty of words;
  • the ‘buts’ and ‘ifs’ – (Had he   We should have   although   perhaps   if   But)  and the simple words that express his effort to explain things to himself (because   Because   Just so  of  course).

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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