Channel Firing Analysis by Thomas Hardy

“Channel Firing”; The poem is illustrative of Thomas Hardy’s view that the pain-inducing flaws in the nature of things are ever-present and eternal.

This, of course, is not Hardy’s only view on the war subject.

Inconsistently, in some poems, he implies a view that history had degenerated to a condition of endurable suffering and disillusionment, and that time should stop before things get worse.

‘Channel Firing’ is Thomas Hardy’s way of saying that war is pointless.

They’ve been around forever, but what was truly been accomplished by it?

The narrator is a dead person awoke from its eternal sleep in its grave by cannons going off out at sea to practice firing just before World War I. At first, the narrator believes, it is ‘God’s Judgement Day’.

Then Hardy states that the mouse and the worms got scared by the roaring sound of the guns, but the glebe cow, or cow at a church used for keeping the grass short, just drools as if understands too well what is going on thus the guns going off is expected.

Then God tells the narrator that it is not Judgement Day and that the noises are from gunnery practice at sea. He says the world is just like it used to be.

God also tells the dead that those involved in the war do not do anything more than the dead people in their graves as far as forwarding his purposes. He says that most of the living are lucky. It isn’t Judgement Day because they could all being sweeping the floors of Hell for their threats of war.

Then one of the dead asks themselves if the world will ever understand what it’s meant for, or if it will always be as confusing as when that dead person was alive.

Another one of the dead persons is a preacher who says he wished he would have just smoked and drank instead of preaching.

The final stanza mentions avenging or getting revenge for, at three places Stourton Tower, Camelot and Stonehenge.

The essence of the poem is a criticism of war and of the endless human desire to have war and violence.

Hardy points out that though it occurs time and time again, and though it is incredible devastation, people are too crazy to stop, and would always continue to make red war redder though it displeases and doesn’t honor God(s).


Channel Firing – Thomas Hardy

Channel Firing, one of the few war poems in the selection, is by far the most savagely critical in its scornful condemnation of man's irredeemable desire for conflict.

The poem is spoken in the first person by one of the dead buried in a church the windows of which have been shattered by the report of guns being fired for "practice" in the English Channel.

So great is the disturbance that the skeletons believe Judgement Day (the resurrection of the dead) has and make all suddenly sitting up in readiness for the great day.

Then the poem takes an irreverent turn as Hardy introduces God to the proceedings, reassuring the corpses that it is not time for the Judgement Day but merely "gunnery practice", adding that the world is as it was when the dead men "went below" to their graves. 

That is to say, every country is trying to make its methods of destruction more efficient, and shed more blood, making "red war yet redder". 

The living is seen as being insane and no more ready to exercise Christian love than are the dead, who are perforce "helpless in such matters".  In other words, they do nothing "for Christ’s sake".

God continues, observing that those responsible for the "gunnery practice" are fortunate that it is not the day of judgement,  as, if it were, their bellicose threats would be punished by their having to scour the floor of Hell.

Hell seems to be the appropriate place for the war-makers. With a hint of malice, God suggests that He will ensure that His judgement day is far hotter, though He concedes that He may not bother as eternal rest seems more suited to the human condition. 

The blowing of trumpet signals the end of the world.

God's remarks were at an end, the skeletons voice their own opinions of the gunnery practice, wondering if sanity will ever be achieved by man.

Significantly, while many of the skeletons nod as if to suggest that man will never learn, the parson regrets having spent his life-giving sermons which have had no effect on his congregation: "preaching forty years" has made no difference to his hearers.

In the final stanza of the poem, Hardy writes of how the threatening sound of the guns, ready "to avenge” resounds far inland, as far as the places he names.

The landmarks to which Hardy refers are not chosen merely to provide authentic local detail.

By invoking the dead civilizations of the past, Hardy sets the poem in a far more expansive historical time-scale.  Perhaps he further suggests that civilizations (including his own?) are doomed because man's nature never makes any moral advance.
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