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Before Action -- W N Hodgson

Guest poem submitted by Anustup Datta:
(Poem #480) Before Action
By all the glories of the day
  And the cool evening's benison,
By that last sunset touch that lay
  Upon the hills where day was done,
By beauty lavishly outpoured
  And blessings carelessly received,
By all the days that I have lived
  Make me a solider, Lord.

By all of man's hopes and fears,
  And all the wonders poets sing,
The laughter of unclouded years,
  And every sad and lovely thing;
By the romantic ages stored
  With high endeavor that was his,
By all his mad catastrophes
  Make me a man, O Lord.

I, that on my familiar hill
  Saw with uncomprehending eyes
A hundred of Thy sunsets spill
  Their fresh and sanguine sacrifice,
Ere the sun swings his noonday sword
  Must say goodbye to all of this;--
By all delights that I shall miss,
  Help me to die, O Lord.
-- W N Hodgson
If there be perfection in war poetry, Hodgson's "Before Action" is it. It is,
first of all, beautiful poetry - the rhythms of the soldier's orisons are
perfectly captured. The second verse introduces the irony - subtly - all the sad
and lovely things that the romantic ages had to say about battle, valour, glory
and the ideals of high endeavour : the finale of Tennyson's "Maud" is an
excellent example. The third verse is pure despair - the last line drops like a
bombshell, but not before beguiling one with the perfect beauty of "A hundred of
Thy sunsets spill/Their fresh and sanguine sacrifice". All in all, a real gem.


26 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Todd said...

I found a discussion of this poem in the Thomas Hardy Association website
that might be helpful. In the discussion, James Gibson, editor of _The
Complete Poems of Thomas Hardy_ has the following to say about the original
publication of `The Man He Killed.'

`The Man He Killed' was first published in Harper's Weekly (NY) on 8 November 1902,
when it had after the title, `SCENE: The settle [a high-backed bench seat] of the Fox
Inn, Stagfoot Lane. CHARACTERS: The speaker (a returned soldier), and his friends,
natives of the hamlet.'

Gibson adds, `The war from which the soldier had returned was the South African Boer
War and, like most soldiers when hostilities cease, he wonders what it was all

Gibson also calls attention to the stanza

I shot him dead because -
Because he was my foe,
Just so: my foe of course he was;
That's clear enough

and says, `The hesitation, the repetition, the awkward interrupted rhythm of his
speech, all tell us that this `returned soldier,' naive though he may seem, is
questioning the futility of all this fighting. When will they ever learn, Hardy is

The question had been raised whether the narrator could be a spokesman for the poet
since his insight seems limited. `Quaint and curious war is,' he says, which seems a
totally inadequate assessment.


Anonymous said...

i think that this poem is trying to say that soldiers need help from god to be brave enough to fight. for more information comment and i will give you help in analysis.

Anonymous said...

i think this poem sucks, its too long and complicated.

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Anonymous said...

I read this poem aloud to a group on a Battlefield Tour by Hodgson's grave in the trench which is 'occupied still' by the men of the Devonshire Regiment who died alongside him on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. My voice faltered on the last line but there was not a dry eye left in the group!


Anonymous said...

Im using this poem to create an anthology for my english project, and after having deeply analyzed I think it's a really nice poem. Keep in mind that he uses the word sunset a lot as a metaphor for the ending of life-ending of day- which he refers to many men in the war. Also tips for others look at the irony within the second stanza as he talks about the catastrophes of man and yet he asks to be brave.

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