Extended commentary of 'Drummer Hodge' by Thomas Hardy

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Drummer Hodge


On the Title: Hardy allows no perceptive comments to be made about the title – rather a bland one, merely giving the name (noticeably in terms of his military rank) of an individual. It should be noted, however, that the original title was ‘The Dead Drummer Boy’. I suspect that Hardy changed it to add more emphasis to the ‘reader’s discovery’ – of the fact that Hodge is dead, that is – in the first stanza.

Themes: Death, Distance, Foreign Landscape, the Tragedy of War.

Overall Structure: Three stanzas of six lines (regular) with an alternate rhyme scheme. As with “I Look Into My Glass”, the rhyme scheme adds to the concentrated nature of the poem. There also exists a ‘classical’ feel provided by the Roman numerals used to mark each stanza. All in all, it is a very ‘tidy’ and reverential structure; it is as if Hardy is paying his own tribute to the otherwise unlamented Hodge, treating him as with the deference that was, as the reader soon discovers, lacking from his burial.

Difficult Language Notes:

  • A “kopje-crest” is a large hill – a break in the otherwise undulating South African plain, where the poem is set. It marks Hodge’s grave as a noticeable landscape feature.
  • The “veldt” is a rolling grass plain.
  • The “Karoo” is a natural semi-desert in the heart of South Africa.

First Stanza Notes: Hardy sets a scene, in the Boer war, with a particularly rough image;

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“They throw in Drummer Hodge, to rest/ Uncoffined – just as found:”

Hodge has obviously died (How? We do not know), but has not been treated with much respect. None of the funeral traditions are observed: Hodge is “thrown” into a pit “just as found” and presumably without a service. The poem therefore begins ambiguously. “They” could refer to either friend or foe. Yet their identity is not as important as their attitude to their discovery – Hodge is used by Hardy as a representative of the thousands of casualties of the war, just one more unremarkable victim. Yet the ...

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