The Man He Killed

by Thomas Hardy

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Why does the poet think that war is quaint and curious in "The Man He Killed"?

In the final stanza of the poem "The Man That He Killed," the poet proclaims that war is "quaint and curious" because one man killing another in the name of war is, to his mind, an old-fashioned and strange thing to do.

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In "The Man He Killed," Hardy ponders how strange it is that two men who might otherwise sit down for a drink and a chat will, in the name of war, shoot at one another instead.

In the third stanza of the poem, Hardy struggles to identify a good reason as to why, in the context of a war, one man might kill another man whom he does not know and with whom he has no personal quarrel. In the first two lines of the stanza, the speaker of the poem says, "I shot him dead because— / Because he was my foe." The hyphen at the end of the first line suggests a hesitation, and the repetition of "because" implies uncertainty. The poet wants to emphasize here that the speaker of the poem has no good reason to kill the other man. He, the speaker, has simply been told that the other man is his "foe," and that is meant to be reason enough. This irrational taking of life seems to be the main reason why the poet proclaims war, in the final stanza, to be "curious."

When the poet writes that war is also "quaint" or old-fashioned, the implication seems to be that war is like an out-dated, irrelevant tradition. A second implication is perhaps that, in 1902, when the poem was written, one might have expected the human race to have come up with a better, more humane, and more rational way to resolve disputes. Hardy concludes his poem with the speaker, in an incredulous tone, questioning why this more modern solution has not yet been found, and why, instead, we still persist with something which is so strange, irrational and out-dated, or, as Hardy puts it, so "quaint and curious."

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