Please explain the meaning of "Channel Firing" by Thomas Hardy.I've read through the poem a couple of times and I still don't understand it. Could you help me by analyzing the poem alongside of...

Please explain the meaning of "Channel Firing" by Thomas Hardy.

I've read through the poem a couple of times and I still don't understand it. Could you help me by analyzing the poem alongside of picking apart quotes and describing them in detail? I would really appreciate it.

Expert Answers
Stephen Holliday eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Thomas Hardy's "Channel Firing" was published in early 1914, several months before England and the world was immersed in WWI.  It is quite possible that Hardy actually heard vessels of the Royal Navy practicing their firing techniques in preparation for the outbreak of war.

The speaker is among the dead, perhaps at one time a soldier, and he begins by telling us that he and the other dead thought the noise so loud that it must be judgment day.  The use of "your" in the opening line emphasizes the separation of the living from the dead--these are not "our" guns but "your" guns because we, the dead, are no longer concerned with what goes on the world of the living.

The second stanza points up how disturbing this noise is to the world of the dead (the worms seek protection) and the world of the church (the mouse is so startled it loses its "altar-crumb").  The world of the living, represented by the "howl of wakened hounds," is equally disturbed.

In the third stanza, the image of the "glebe cow" reinforces the larger setting of the poem--a glebe cow is a cow provided by the parish citizens for the benefit of the church vicar.  More important, however, is the appearance of God, who understands what is going on and makes one of the poem's important points: mankind is preparing for war just as it always has.  Not to worry, boys, for now it is just practice.

The fourth and fifth stanzas continue to expand God's first observation.  The world of the living is trying to make living much harder, "to make Red war yet redder."  In a relatively damning comment, especially for a solidly Christian country, God says that men are no more effective at advancing Christ's message than the dead are.  Further, if this were Judgment Day, some of these warriors would be in serious trouble, punished by having to clean the floor of Hell for causing so much disturbance.

The sixth stanza is a simple threat--if Judgment Day comes, those who cause such trouble will find themselves in hot water (literally and figuratively).  God also makes an interesting side comment in this stanza, indicating that he may or may not ever enact Judgment Day.  In a conventional Christian context, the idea of a Judgment Day never happening is somewhat troubling because Judgment Day is a fundamental rite of passage for Christians.  The God Hardy is depicting here is not an Old Testament fire-and-brimstone God but rather seems to be somewhat capricious and a God with a good sense of humor.

The concluding three stanzas bring the voices of the dead back again, who wonder if the world will ever become saner than the century in which they died, implying that, while they were alive, war was an element in their lives just as it is in the present.  To emphasize their disgust with the militancy of the present, one of the dead quotes a parson, who believes he should have concerned himself with worldly things--"pipes and beer"--rather than preaching.

The last stanza simply describes the wide distance the sounds of gunfire traverses, basically all over southern England, and the mention of specific historic landmarks emphasizes what is at stake in another war.