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"The Good Gray Poet," as he has been called, Thomas Hardy wrote several Boer War poems, and "Drummer Hodge" is one of these which evinces Hardy's empathy for ordinary people, their personal tragedies and struggles within the senseless situations of war.
As a subject for this poem, Hardy uses the innocent and terribly vulnerable drummer boy, one of those boys sent among the front line to beat the drums to which the soldiers marched. Placed in the front and without any weapon, these virtual children were often quick sacrifices to battle. Without the acumen of any officer or the skill of a trained soldier, these boys were rather expendable. In the beginning of the poem, Hardy writes,
They throw in Drummer Hodge, to rest
Uncoffined--just as found:
The boy is tossed into the grave as one would bury an animal; his name is Hodge, a moniker for an insignificant person or a mere country bumpkin. And, he is left in a place surrounded by a veldt where his unmarked grave will soon be lost. Thousands of miles from home, the boy's body will merely become part of the plains of Africa:
His homely Northern breast and brain
Grow to some Southern tree
Further, the stars that shine above his humble grave are all foreign constellations, as well, unknown to the English boy.
Drummer Hodges's life has been made meaningless by war; he has merely been exploited. Once he dies, his usefulness is gone and he is thrown into a ditch as one would bury one of the horses killed in battle. It seems improbable that his family can every know where he is buried, too, because he is "thrown" to rest in a kopje-crest amid a veldt, a location made more remote and strange by the use of the Afrikaans' terms.
Certainly, in this war poem, Thomas Hardy indicates his profound reservations about British imperialism and the tragic cost of war with the lives of ordinary men, the Hodges of England.
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