Contrast Hardy's "Channel Firing" with the thinking out of Romantic and Victorian periods.  Focus on specific details that identify it as something that was written in the early 20th Century.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The depiction of a world preparing itself for war with sounds that make it reminiscent of a judgment day setting serves as the focal point of Hardy's "Channel Firing."  The details within the poem reflect a world where technological advancement has found its way into military strategy and warfighting readiness.  This condition is reflective of the early 20th Century, evident in how Hardy wrote the poem hearing British battleships and armaments preparing for World War I. At the same time, Hardy's depiction of an ironic vision of the divine and voices from the other side who are not able to find much in way of absolution and definite salvation are reflective details that serve to identify the work as something that was written in the early 20th Century.  

The message that comes out of Hardy's work possesses distinct aspects which are connected to the Romantic and Victorian periods of thought.  On one hand, Hardy strikes a socially critical note.  In some respects, Hardy mirrors Wordsworth's stance of social criticism.  Hardy criticizes a social world that so easily accepts the exercise of war.  Hardy assumes the Romantic criticism of society in this world with such references as "Red war yet redder. Mad as hatters."  This line helps to showcase a world out of balance, losing its soul in the process.  A similar Romantic tendency can be seen with the guns that "disturb the hour," suggesting that the preparation for war violates the natural tenets of human consciousness.  Hardy activates a Romantic tendency in the banality with which society accepts war in "It’s gunnery practice out at sea." This line speaks to the manner in which society has lost its sensitivity towards war, looking at it as a result of "normalizing the abnormal."  These ideas speak to a Romantic focus in which social notions of the good are criticized in the name of a calling that is more authentic and more sincerely driven towards that which is natural.  Through the poem, Hardy does not accept the Romantic period's unity and belief that such imbalance and disharmony can be overcome.  Hardy's Romantic tendencies exist in the identification of a problem, and not in acknowledging a potential solution, something that is noticeably absent from the poem's conclusion.

Hardy never quite felt comfortable with the Victorian notions of reality. The Victorian tendency that stressed hard work and dedication to transcendent notions of the good will invariably bring about restoration are challenged in "Channel Firing."  Hardy undercuts such notions of unity with a depiction of the divine that is far from absolute.  It is not even fully clear if this construction of the divine will allow a judgment day to present itself:  "if indeed/ I ever do; for you are men,/ And rest eternal sorely need."  In addition to this, Hardy creates an ending where hardly anything is restored.  Even the skeletal spirits yearn for "pipe and beer" as opposed to anything transcendent.  As once again by the end of the poem, "Again the guns disturbed the hour,/ Roaring their readiness to avenge," the gravitational pull of military readiness looms over all, there is not a real spirit of restoration and moral order that is reaffirmed.  Those fighting the war are left to be on their own, similar to how their divine force views them.  It is in this domain where the poem contains elements that criticize Victorian period tendencies.

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