How does Thomas Hardy's poem "Drummer Hodge" bring out the absurdities of war?

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vangoghfan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Thomas Hardy’s poem “Drummer Hodge” emphasizes the absurdities of war in a variety of ways, including the following:

  • It seems absurd that a drummer, of all people, should die in the war. A drummer’s job is to summon other men to risk their lives; therefore it seems absurd that his own life should be lost.
  • A drummer is presumably a non-combatant, someone whose job is not to fight or carry arms but to play the drum he carries. He is no direct threat to any enemy soldier, and thus his death, presumably by being shot, seems especially absurd.
  • Drummers were likely to be especially young, indeed even to be boys; the death of a boy in war seems especially absurd.
  • Drummers were so low in military rank and so relatively unimportant in terms of military responsibility and decision-making that the death of a drummer seems especially absurd. The death of a general or other commanding officer would seem less ironic than the death of a lowly drummer.
  • Drummer Hodge dies and is unceremoniously buried in a land far from home – a land so far away that it poses no real threat to his own country. His death is therefore particularly absurd.
  • Hodge never even has much of a chance to acquaint himself with this foreign landscape or its peculiarities before he is killed. He is not a long-serving soldier but apparently has only recently arrived in the place where he quickly dies.  His death is therefore especially absurd.
  • The opening lines of the poem emphasize the absurdity of Hodge’s plight:

They throw in Drummer Hodge, to rest

Uncoffined—just as found. (1-2)

If “absurdity” implies a lack of meaning or significance, then Hodge’s death seems absurd. It doesn’t really enhance the military might of the enemy. It is not commemorated in any ceremonies that might seem to make some sense of it. The body seems merely something to be disposed of rather than the sacred remains of a fellow human being, to be treated with dignity and respect. Of course, one can’t really blame the people who bury Hodge for the hasty, improvised nature of his burial.  They, after all, still have to deal with the absurdities of war, as he no longer does.