What are the differences in descriptions and images between "Drummer Hodge" by Thomas Hardy & "Counter Attack" by Siegfried Sassoonin?

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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Hardy describes the war by locating the setting in time and place. Specific words give the location and the war in that location gives the approximate time. The words kopje, as in kopje-crest, veldt, karoo, the bush identify the location in the poem as South Africa. Drummer Hodge is described as being English by the phrases "his Wessex home" and "His homely Norther breast and brain." The war fought in South Africa during Hardy's career was the Boer War.

The rest of Hardy's description of the war comes from imagery related to things that are foreign. A kopje is a hillock or small natural hill; calling it a kopje (ko-pee) emphasizes the war's foreignness. Wessex, England, surely has no veldt (feld-t) in its native loam (soil), again emphasizing the foreignness of the war. The keenest image and the one most emphatic of foreignness is the description of the Southern stellar constellations, which are shockingly different in appearance to a Northerner who beholds them: "And strange-eyed constellations reign / His stars eternally." The final bitter, descriptive image of the war is that of his bones resting forever in foreign lands of the desert karoo (keh-roo-a):

His homely Northern breast and brain
Grow to some Southern tree,

Sassoon's description of the war is altogether different. While Hardy was subtle and focused on war's foreignness by emphasizing the foreignness of the location, Sassoon emphasizes the "Pallid, unshaved and thirsty, blind with smoke" nature of war. He describes the war in terms of bombers and guns and the horrors of the trenches.

bombers posted, Lewis guns well placed,
And clink of shovels deepening the shallow trench.

Sassoon uses a similar indirect technique for locating the war in time and place. There was only one war that has been universally characterized by the horrors of trench warfare and that is World War I. He gives an approximation of the place through a metonymy for the Germans; he alludes to them as "the Allemands." Allemands are German country dances and the accompanying music for them; this creates a tragic and bitter irony describing and alluding to the war as a horrifying dance. The location is thus approximated to the European theater of war.

Along with this nightmarish image of war as a dance, Sassoon's dominant imagery relates to the soldiers' behavior. For instance, during the counter-attack the Germans are "stumbling figures looming out in front"; the "bang" that hit the soldier "Crumpled and spun him sideways"; as his life expired, "Down, and down, and down, he sank and drowned."

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