Hardy's "Channel Firing" is often considered prescient, as it was written and published in the spring of 1914, a few months before the outbreak of World War I.
In this poem, the dead, described as skeletons in stanza eight, speak light-heartedly to the living about the loud noises made by war guns practicing their firing in the English channel. The poem plays on the cliches of nosies so loud they wake the dead. Its comic tone and fanciful dialogue contrast with it serious theme about the threat and madness of warfare.
In stanza one, the skeletons say they are startled (caught 'unawares') by the violent shaking caused by the reverberations of the great guns going off. They think it signals Judgment Day, potentially good news to them, as they hope to be raised from the dead to go to heaven or to become part of the New Jerusalem when God unites heaven and earth. The irony, of course, is that this gun firing has nothing to do with God and represents the opposite of the building of a New Jerusalem. The dead, nevertheless, sit up in their coffins, while a mouse is so startled it drops its crumb and even the worms are taken aback.
God, in stanza three, gets into the action, informing the dead that this is "gunnery practice," not a call to the dead to rise. God characterizes the humans preparing for war as mad (insane) for trying to make warfare bloodier ("redder") than it already is with their great guns. God explains that these war mongers have no more to do with Christ than the dead in their graves do.
God goes on to say it is a "blessed thing" for the warmongers that Judgment Day is far off, for they will have much to answer for:
they’d have to scour Hell’s floor for so much threatening [of war and death] . . . .
The skeletons lay down again in their coffins, knowing that Judgment Day is not at hand. The firing guns are not God's trumpets.
The skeletons talks among themselves and wonder, as the twentieth century...
(The entire section contains 530 words.)
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