Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 535
In these opening lines, the dead address the living, setting a light-hearted tone for a poem on a serious theme: a condemnation of warfare.That night your great guns, unawares,Shook all our coffins as we lay
"We sat upright" is an allusion to the old cliche of noises so loud they "wake the dead." There's a vein of grim humor in the sound of guns so powerful even the dead are startled into thinking Judgment Day has arrived. The bleakness is underscored by the imagery of hounds howling in the night in response to the firing guns.And sat upright. While drearisomeArose the howl of wakened hounds
All nations striving strong to makeRed war yet redder. Mad as hattersThey do no more for Christés sakeThan you who are helpless in such matters.
God speaks to the dead in their coffins in the quote above to reassure them that the noises have nothing to do with heaven or spiritual matters. In a stanza that gets to the heart of the poem, God disavows any part in warfare, showing that evoking his name in support of one country's military cause is a lie. He says quite unequivocally that this war preparation has nothing at all to do with Christ.
The sing-song, almost nursery-rhyme-quality of the end rhymes—"make" and "sake" and "hatters" and "matters"—are at odds with the serious nature of what God is declaring. The simple language, however, makes it completely clear that it is insane to make war "redder"(more bloody) than it is. It is both "mad" and un-Christian. Hardy also evokes the highest authority he can come up with—God—to make this statement. Hardy is trying, in this poem, to urge people to come to their senses and think about what they are doing.
That this is not the judgment-hourFor some of them's a blessed thing
I wish I had stuck to pipes and beer.
Again the guns disturbed the hour,Roaring their readiness to avenge,As far inland as Stourton Tower,And Camelot, and starlit Stonehenge.