Sunday, May 17, 2015

Sunday Poetry - Thomas Hardy

A poem from another war this week. Hardy's Drummer Hodge is about a young Wessex soldier, killed during the Boer War in South Africa & buried under a foreign sky, with "strange stars amid the gloam". I thought of this poem because I read an article in the latest BBC History magazine about the Relief of Mafeking & that reminded me that, in Testament of Youth, Vera Brittain writes that the celebrations for the Relief were among her earliest memories (another coincidence - if you read the article on the Relief in History Today that I've linked to, you'll see another highlighted article, about Somerville College as a military hospital in WWI. Is it any wonder that I spend too much time on the internet when one thing leads to another like that?).

The mentions of the veldt, the kopje & the Karoo also reminded me of one of Vera & Roland's favourite books, The Story of an African Farm by Olive Schreiner. I read this many years ago & remember being unimpressed by it. I probably read it in the afterglow of my first reading of Testament of Youth. I feel that I should read it again & see how I feel about it 35 years later.

They throw in Drummer Hodge, to rest
Uncoffined -- just as found:
His landmark is a kopje-crest
That breaks the veldt around:
And foreign constellations west
Each night above his mound.

Young Hodge the drummer never knew --
Fresh from his Wessex home --
The meaning of the broad Karoo,
The Bush, the dusty loam,
And why uprose to nightly view
Strange stars amid the gloam.

Yet portion of that unknown plain
Will Hodge for ever be;
His homely Northern breast and brain
Grow to some Southern tree,
And strange-eyed constellations reign
His stars eternally.


  1. We can forget that Hardy was a poet as well as a novelist, and this is a moving tribute to the little drummer boy, with vague echoes of Rupert Brooke's The Soldier.

    I do agree about the distractions of the internet: sometimes it takes you by the hand and leads you down lanes that take you further and further from your original starting point!

    Another really thought-provoking post, thanks Lyn.

    1. I've always loved Hardy's poetry & this is such a poignant poem.

  2. Apparently there was a saddle from the Boer War in the tack room at my Grandfather's farm in Shropshire...I have occasionally mused upon it's journey there....

    1. The Boer War has become the forgotten war these days, I suppose it seems as far away as the Zulu War or the Crimea although it only ended 13 years before the Great War.

  3. This is a lovely poem and the first I've read having to do with the Boer War. Thanks for sharing it.

    1. I must look out for more Boer War poetry. There are a couple of very good anthologies of war poetry that go back before the Great War so there must be more poets to discover.