Thomas Hardy’s “Channel Firing” is a poem written in 1914, four months prior to the start of World War 1. This historical context is crucial to understanding the poem as it expresses the dark and sorrowful foreshadowing of the months before the war, creating feelings of tension, turmoil and unrest. There were, at the time, many young men who did not share the common unease, more so tension turned to excitement, turmoil to eagerness and unrest to anticipation.
The split between society in the months leading up to the war is portrayed in Hardy’s poem. For example, the anonymous character Hardy embodies in this poem states how he “thought it was judgement day” as he hears gunfire, quite clearly depicting his fear.
‘Channel Firing’, is a dialogue carried out entirely by the occupants of a seaside cemetery, who confuse naval gunnery practice with the thunder of the Day of Judgment.
As Fussell suggests, Hardy almost wrote the war before it happened. It is no surprise that Siegfried Sassoon, who wrote the sharpest satirical poems about war, acknowledged Hardy as his master. Hardy had, of course, written about war before this, and very powerfully.
Possibly an allusion to a children’s tale Alice in Wonderland in which the Mad Hatter is frozen in time and perhaps as a result goes insane, Hardy perhaps draws a comparison between this character and the leaders of humanity. The use of mad as hatters could also be a reference to humanity’s aggressiveness and thirst for blood to be a detrimental mindset, or indeed it could depict the primal instincts of man.
Another quote that is perhaps important to consider is “They do no more for Christés sake”. This could be seen to have two meanings, “for Christés sake” could itself be a curse as is used in modern day in anger or exasperation, or perhaps it could allude to an aforementioned point that humanity goes to war, fights and dies in God’s name, thus meaning that they no longer fight for God. With further reference to religion, the poem seems to allude to, through the use of humanity’s unending cycle of violence, a powerless God or a God that does not care. The key way in which this poem slightly differs from other Hardy work is that he accepts God’s existence, even going so far as to introduce him as a character with a stanza’s worth of dialogue, “ Till God called, “No…””. A major factor to take into consideration when studying any of Hardy’s poems is his religious background.