Unless the comic undercutting of the original atmosphere of the poem is recognized, along with the irony attached to the figure of God, “Channel Firing” might be read as a fairly straightforward and unrelentingly serious condemnation of humankind for continuing to make war, a judgment coming from within a Christian perspective. The moralizing figure of the poem, God, cannot be taken seriously, however, or at least not entirely so. Ultimately, He is an unattractive figure.
The poem is registering the fact of war and its cost in human life. Indeed, the piece might be regarded as prescient, for Hardy wrote it in April of 1914, only months before the outbreak of World War I. Yet Hardy is pointing to the costly use of force less to shake a judgmental finger at humankind than to register such use as apparently inescapable. The poem might be said to replace judgments with facts, and Christian theology, which it finds absurd, with history.
It is interesting to note Hardy’s handling of place names in the last stanza. They are arranged so as to have the sounds of the guns carry not merely inland through space but also backward through time. The reader moves from Hardy’s century to the eighteenth century, the period when Stourton Tower was constructed. The reference to that edifice moves the reader back even further, for it commemorates an event of the ninth century. The mention of Camelot carries the reader still further back, to the sixth...
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