Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Wednesday Evening Poetry: Channel Firing

Here is another favorite poem. I used to know it word-for-word, but have forgotten bits over the years. It fits my generally cynical view of politics and the hopelessness of war. I find it incredibly contemporary, too. I'm amazed and saddened that Hardy and I, though separated by nearly one hundred years, are both questioning why we (the universal “we”) have been fighting each other for centuries, with no imaginable end--and that we cannot seem to learn another way. But mostly I love this poem for the sound of it in my ears and the feel of it on my tongue. Draw out the o's, rev up the r's and see if you agree! Picture the cow stopping to listen, and the church mice shuddering with every blast. Listen to the last line as the tempo slows to end softly on starlit Stonehenge.

Channel Firing
by Thomas Hardy

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 Christ├ęs sake
Than you who 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.


Mrs. G. said...

I read it out loud for full effect. Beautiful. This is new to me.

Claire B. said...

Isn't it something?