After Blenheim by Robert Southey and Drummer Hodge by Thomas Hardy Paper
‘After Blenheim’ is a poem written by Robert Southey in 1798. It is about an old man named Kasper. Kasper is telling his grandchildren, Peterkin and Wilhelmine, about the Battle of Blenheim (1704) during the Franco Prussian War. It was written to give an anti-war message because of the situation between England and France. Hardy wrote ‘Drummer Hodge’ in 1899 during the Boer War. It is about a young drummer boy who is in an unknown place. It was written to give Hardy’s point of view on the war between England and the Boers. The story was chosen to give a message of war and experience for young men.
Hardy wrote it because he believed it was strange that a young boy should leave his home in Wessex to enter the war and end his life dead in Africa, a country that he knows nothing of and is forever lost. ‘After Blenheim’ is a very suitable title telling the reader that the poem is about the Battle of Blenheim. It begins in a narrative form, at Old Kasper’s farm. It starts oddly with a description of a warm evening. The discovery of a skull leads to his grandchildren asking him about the war. Kasper recalls how his father lived in Blenheim and how his dwelling was burnt down and ‘with his wife and child he fled.
The poem goes on to describe children dying. This was to give the disgusting picture of what war is really like. However, Kasper doesn’t sound surprised by this and only thinks that it’s natural, in a war, that lives are sacrificed for ‘a famous victory. ‘ Then Kasper explains the image of the aftermath. ‘Bodies here lay rotting in the sun’ gives a picture of mounds of dead bodies piled together. The reader notices his story on Blenheim progresses poorer until the Duke and Price Eugene are mentioned. But, one may notice that when Wilhelmine says it ‘was a very wicked thing’ Kasper hesitates but can only reply with ‘Nay… ay. ‘
This may be interpreted as Kasper having doubts on what the government and propaganda has taught him. The rhyme scheme in ‘After Blenheim’ is ABCBDD. This gives the war poem a very childish, nursery-rhyme effect and is insistent. The rhythm of the poem assists this view. Because it gives it more support as a children’s poem. ‘Drummer Hodge’ is a title telling the reader that the poem is based on one boy from a war. However, one doesn’t notice at first, that it is very sarcastic; that Hodge is a derogatory name given to uncomplicated people from the countryside, by city folk.
The story is based upon a young drummer boy sent into the Boer War. He’s just died and the poem begins with a scene of hundreds of bodies being thrown into a heap, with no funeral or procession. It is considered very heartbreaking that the boy has died lost, in an unknown place. Unfamiliar people and sounds surround him and ‘foreign constellations’ mark the stars that signify the boy’s resting place although they are unknown stars to him. The second verse describes how he was born in Wessex and died in a strange place.
The poem then goes on to tell the reader about the boy’s burial spot means his body will grow with a Southern tree although he was born with a ‘Northern breast and brain. ‘ And the ending of the poem explains how he is eternally where he doesn’t belong. The ending is considered very ironic because he will forever be with outlandish scenery. It is also very ironic that the drummer boy was killed although it is only the soldiers’ jobs to kill, the young boy doesn’t kill others. Although the rhyme scheme is very similar to that of ‘After Blenheim,’ this poem has a different effect.
This is possibly because it has a more advanced vocabulary and is not for the faint of heart. ‘After Blenheim’ and ‘Drummer Hodge’ have some similarities, which make them good poems to compare. Firstly, they are both about war and both convey the poets’ feelings on war as useless and un-resolving. Also, both poets seem to feel sorry for the boys and men that died in the war because Hardy writes bluntly, how the boy is ‘uncoffined – just as found. ‘ I think Southey uses an underlying theme of war’s pointlessness and how it cost lives although no one ever knew why.
The rhythm and rhyme of the two poems are fairly similar and can both be considered based upon the average nursery rhyme. The tones of both are very depressing because, in ‘After Blenheim’ he talks about ‘mother then and new-born baby died. ‘ Both poets begin the poems peacefully. ‘Drummer Hodge’ begins with the burial of a boy. This is sad, but peaceful. ‘After Blenheim’ starts with the grandfather resting after working. ‘ Hardy and Southey’s poems are very different in many ways. ‘Drummer Hodge’ was written at the time of the war however, ‘After Blenheim’ was written long after the Battle of Blenheim.
Also, Hardy’s poem is about South Africa, but ‘After Blenheim’ is about England. The two poems are based on very diverse people. ‘After Blenheim’ is concerning an old man but ‘Drummer Hodge relates to a young boy. Hardy’s poem is mature and isn’t for the faint of heart, but the other poem is much more childish and simple. ‘After Blenheim’ is a story of someone who lived through the war and is therefore less depressing than ‘Drummer Hodge,’ which is about a boy who died during the Boer War. Also, ‘Drummer Hodge’ makes the reader sympathize with the boy, but ‘After Blenheim’ makes you pity Kasper and feel sorry for the civilians who died.
Overall, ‘After Blenheim’ can be taken as a children’s poem because of the rhyming and rhythm. However, I think that those who truly read into the poem, between the lines, discover the underlying theme. Therefore, it is rather complicated and may be approached as a children’s poem, but is for older readers. ‘Drummer Hodge’ is definitely not for younger individuals because it is very detailed and is more sophisticated with vocabulary more advanced, and including Afrikaans. I think both poets put across their views on war very clearly and very well.