'Channel Firing' by Thomas Hardy

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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-dayAnd sat upright. While drearisome
Arose the howl of wakened hounds:
The mouse let fall the altar-crumb,
The worm drew back into the mounds,The glebe cow drooled. Till God cried, "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 who are helpless in such matters."That this is not the judgment-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.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Channel Firing by Thomas Hardy: A Critical Analysis

Channel Firing is a hauntingly beautiful poem written by Thomas Hardy, one of the most celebrated writers of the Victorian era. The poem was written in 1914, just before the outbreak of World War I, and is considered one of Hardy's most powerful poems. In this literary criticism, I will explore the poem's themes, symbols, and language, and provide my own interpretation of the poem.


Before diving into the poem itself, it is important to understand the historical context surrounding it. Thomas Hardy lived during a time of great change and upheaval in England. The country was on the cusp of World War I, and Hardy was keenly aware of the tensions and anxieties of the time. He was also deeply affected by the religious and philosophical debates of the time, particularly those surrounding the concept of God and the afterlife.


One of the most prominent themes in Channel Firing is the idea of death and destruction. The poem is set in a graveyard, where the dead are buried and the living come to mourn. The opening lines of the poem set the tone for what is to come:

"that night your great guns, unawares, shook all our coffins as we lay, and broke the chancel window-squares, we thought it was the Judgment-day"

Here, the speaker is describing the sound of distant gunfire, which they mistake for the end of the world. This sense of impending doom runs throughout the poem, as the speaker reflects on the fragility of life in the face of war and violence.

Another theme that emerges in the poem is that of religion and faith. The speaker is clearly grappling with questions of God and the afterlife, and the poem can be read as a meditation on these questions. The lines "O Christ, forgive the war-worn young / Silent suffering crowds!" suggest a plea for forgiveness, and a recognition of the suffering that war can bring.


One of the most striking symbols in the poem is that of the guns themselves. The sound of gunfire is so loud that it shakes the coffins of the dead, and the speaker describes the guns as "your great guns". This personification of the guns suggests that they are not just weapons, but powerful entities in their own right. The guns also symbolize the destructive power of war, and the way in which it can disrupt and destroy even the most sacred of spaces.

Another symbol that emerges in the poem is that of the chancel window-squares. These squares are described as being "broken", suggesting that even the physical structures of the church have been damaged by the violence of war. This symbolizes the way in which war can destroy not just human life, but also art, culture, and history.


The language in Channel Firing is both powerful and evocative. Hardy uses vivid imagery and metaphor to convey the sense of doom and destruction that permeates the poem. The lines "And now you'll know what Hell is like" are particularly striking, as they suggest that the violence of war is akin to the torments of Hell itself.

The use of repetition in the poem is also particularly effective. The repeated phrase "And now" creates a sense of urgency and inevitability, as if the events being described are already set in motion and cannot be stopped. This is further emphasized by the use of enjambment, which creates a sense of momentum and urgency as the poem progresses.


So, what does all of this mean? What is Hardy trying to say with this poem? In my interpretation, I believe that Channel Firing is a warning about the destructive power of war, and a lament for the lives that are lost in its wake. Hardy is asking us to consider the fragility of human life, and to recognize the ways in which war can destroy not just individuals, but entire societies.

At the same time, I believe that the poem is also a meditation on faith and the afterlife. The speaker is grappling with questions of forgiveness and redemption, and is seeking solace in the face of the violence and destruction around them. This suggests that, even in the darkest of times, there is still hope for a better future.


In conclusion, Channel Firing is a powerful and evocative poem that speaks to the anxieties and fears of its time. Through its use of imagery, symbolism, and language, Hardy creates a sense of urgency and dread that is impossible to ignore. At the same time, the poem also offers a glimmer of hope, suggesting that even in the darkest of times, there is still the possibility for redemption and forgiveness. As we continue to grapple with the violence and upheaval of our own time, Hardy's powerful words continue to resonate with us today.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Poetry Channel Firing: A Masterpiece of Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardy, the renowned English novelist and poet, is known for his exceptional literary works that reflect the harsh realities of life. One of his most famous poems, "The Channel Firing," is a masterpiece that captures the essence of war and its devastating effects on humanity. This poem is a powerful commentary on the futility of war and the destructive nature of human conflict.

The poem begins with a description of a peaceful night in a small English village. The narrator describes the calmness of the night and the beauty of the stars. Suddenly, the silence is shattered by the sound of a gun. The villagers are startled and wonder what could have caused the noise. The narrator then reveals that the sound was not a gun but the firing of cannons from a nearby naval base. The cannons were being fired as part of a military exercise, and the noise was so loud that it shook the ground and woke up the dead from their graves.

The poem then takes a dark turn as the narrator imagines the dead rising from their graves and questioning the living about the reason for the firing of the cannons. The dead are angry and confused, and they demand answers from the living. They ask why humans continue to engage in war and why they continue to kill each other. The dead are horrified by the destruction and devastation caused by war, and they cannot understand why humans cannot live in peace.

The poem then shifts to a more philosophical tone as the narrator reflects on the nature of war and its impact on humanity. The narrator suggests that war is a futile and destructive endeavor that only leads to death and destruction. He argues that humans should learn to live in peace and harmony with each other, rather than engaging in violent conflict.

The poem ends with a powerful message about the need for peace and understanding. The narrator suggests that humans should learn to listen to the voices of the dead and understand the horrors of war. He argues that only by understanding the true cost of war can humans hope to avoid it in the future.

Overall, "The Channel Firing" is a powerful and thought-provoking poem that captures the essence of war and its devastating effects on humanity. Thomas Hardy's use of vivid imagery and powerful language creates a haunting and unforgettable portrait of the horrors of war. The poem is a timeless masterpiece that continues to resonate with readers today, reminding us of the need for peace and understanding in a world torn apart by conflict.

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