Could I have an explanation of the poem "Channel Firing?"

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droxonian eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Hardy is often thought of as a 19th century writer and poet, but he continued writing well into the 20th century, and this poem concerns the First World War, then called the Great War, because it seemed to surpass anything that had come before. The point of this poem, "Channel Firing," which is about guns firing over the English Channel, is that the sheer extent and noise of the gunfire in World War One was enough to literally wake the dead. The speakers in this poem are the dead, who feel the guns as they "shook all our coffins as we lay," making them feel that "Judgment-day" had come.

God, however, reassures the dead that it is not time to wake up yet: "It's gunnery practice out at sea / Just as before you went below." According to God, nothing has really changed in the world: everyone is striving "to make red war yet redder," their behavior "mad as hatters." If it had been time for judgment, God says, some of these would be on their way to "Hell's floor."

The dead speakers, then, "lay down again," and wonder whether the world will have become any saner by the time they are to wake up properly for Judgment Day. The final stanza of the poem describes how the guns continue firing and refers to some key sites of Ancient Britain: "Stourton Tower, and Camelot, and starlit Stonehenge." The stanza seems to be a suggesting that man's warlike insanity has endured since those legendary times, and is likely to endure forever.

enotechris eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Channel Firing, by Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) is a dialogue among the dead who are awakened by the naval "great guns" firing artillery in the English Channel. The central theme of the poem suggests that warfare has gotten so destructive that  Armageddon, the final battle at the end of the world, is at hand, and the dead are awakened for Judgment Day. God reassures them that no, it's just the living engaging in "redder" warfare; a skeleton that used to be the parson states that his lifetime would have been better spent enjoying himself  ("I wish I had stuck to pipes and beer,") rather than preaching, since apparently it had had no positive effect on the subsequent generations. The last stanza suggests the enemy's "return fire" with shells landing far inland. What's interesting is that Hardy was writing about the First World War, but the intensity of the destruction he conveys in his poem more accurately describes the destruction during and at the conclusion of World War II, when the most destructive weapon of all was set upon the world.