Yesterday I posted about the hanging of Breaker Morant, one of the first men in history to be convicted of a “War Crime”. That was in South Africa during the Second Boer War.
Today, on Thomas Hardy’s birthday I am staying in South Africa with this poem. Written shortly after the commencement of the Second Boer War, to which Hardy was opposed, it is an anti-war poem. Hardy thought the Boers should be left to their own devices and were entitled to defend their independence from a grasping British Empire.
Hardy selects a Drummer for his subject. It is worth noting that the drummers were only young boys, innocent mascots of the regiment. A boy from Wessex, Hardy’s own home, a local lad.
Hardy is well known for using colloquial words to give local colour to his writings. In this case he adopts many Boer words to describe the fate of a village lad in a foreign land, tossed into an open unmarked grave beneath unfamiliar stars. Young Hodge died a pointless death.
This poem presages the full flowering of the war poets in the Great War.
Drummer Hodge; by Thomas Hardy
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.