The title refers to the firing of naval guns on the English Channel, guns apparently engaging in a military exercise. The poem registers a complex response to this event, using nine stanzas, each a quatrain set in an abab rhyme scheme, one of the most common forms of English poetry.
In “Channel Firing,” Thomas Hardy uses the first-person plural, though the “We” might be thought of as a single individual speaking for his companions as well as for himself. The “We” are all dead and buried in a graveyard situated beside a church. This location is indicated not only by the reference to an “altar-crumb” but also by the word “chancel,” which means the space around the altar of a church for the clergy and the choir, as well as by the term “glebe cow,” which means a cow pastured on church grounds for the pastor’s use.
The first two stanzas describe the arousal of the dead by the sound of the guns, a sound that is interpreted by them as signaling the arrival of Judgment Day. That occasion, according to Christian belief, will see the destruction of the world as humans know it, the resurrection of the dead, and their assignment by God, along with those still living, to eternal bliss or eternal torment.
God does in fact enter but not to proceed to judgment. Rather, He assures the dead that the sounds they have heard are simply those of guns at sea practicing to make war even bloodier (“redder”) than it...
(The entire section is 526 words.)