'The Subalterns' by Thomas Hardy

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"Poor wanderer," said the leaden sky,
"I fain would lighten thee,
But there are laws in force on high
Which say it must not be."


--"I would not freeze thee, shorn one," cried
The North, "knew I but how
To warm my breath, to slack my stride;
But I am ruled as thou."


--"To-morrow I attack thee, wight,"
Said Sickness. "Yet I swear
I bear thy little ark no spite,
But am bid enter there."


--"Come hither, Son," I heard Death say;
"I did not will a grave
Should end thy pilgrimage to-day,
But I, too, am a slave!"


We smiled upon each other then,
And life to me had less
Of that fell look it wore ere when
They owned their passiveness.

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Subalterns: A Masterpiece of Poetic Realism

As I read through Thomas Hardy's "The Subalterns," I was struck by the vividness of its imagery, the depth of its emotional impact, and the sheer power of its storytelling. This is a poem that captures the essence of war, not as a grand, heroic spectacle, but as a brutal, senseless slaughter that destroys lives, families, and communities. It portrays the soldiers not as noble warriors, but as ordinary men caught up in a cruel and unforgiving world, struggling to survive and find meaning in a world that has lost all sense of order and justice.

At the heart of the poem is the contrast between the idealistic notions of glory and honor that drive the military leaders and the harsh reality of war that the soldiers face on the ground. The opening stanza sets the tone for the entire poem, as the soldiers march off to battle with "drums and cheers and shouts," eager to prove their bravery and loyalty. Yet, as they enter the battlefield, they are greeted by a "blaze of rifles," "smoke and flame," and "groans and falling men" - a scene of chaos and carnage that shatters their illusions and exposes the true nature of war.

Throughout the poem, Hardy uses a variety of poetic devices to convey the horrors of war and the suffering of the soldiers. He employs vivid imagery, such as "the screaming shell," "the crimson stain," and "the gory field," to create a visual and emotional impact on the reader. He also uses repetition, as in the recurring line "And some had girlfriends left behind," to emphasize the personal and human aspect of the soldiers' experiences.

One of the most striking aspects of the poem is the way in which Hardy portrays the soldiers as individuals with unique personalities, hopes, and dreams. He describes them as "men of town and country," "farmers, shopmen, hunters," and "gallant hearts and true." He gives them names - "Giles, Lance, and Shaw," - and tells us about their personal lives and relationships. This makes their deaths all the more tragic, as we come to care about them and see them not as anonymous figures, but as human beings with families and friends who will mourn their loss.

At the same time, Hardy does not shy away from the darker side of human nature that war brings out. He portrays the soldiers as capable of both heroism and cruelty, as in the scene where they "bayonetted the fallen" and "hacked the shrieking wounded" in a frenzy of bloodlust. He also exposes the callousness and ignorance of the civilian population back home, who "thought upon the gay parade" and "the great event," while ignoring the suffering and sacrifice of the soldiers.

In many ways, "The Subalterns" is a critique of the romanticized view of war that was prevalent in Hardy's time, and which still persists to some extent today. It exposes the reality of war as a brutal and senseless conflict that destroys lives and communities, and which is driven not by noble ideals, but by greed, power, and nationalism. It challenges us to question the value of war as a means of resolving conflicts, and to consider the human cost of our actions.

In conclusion, "The Subalterns" is a masterpiece of poetic realism that captures the essence of war in all its horror and tragedy. It is a deeply moving and powerful work that challenges our assumptions and forces us to confront the darker aspects of human nature. It is a testament to Hardy's skill as a poet and his ability to evoke the full range of human emotions, from hope and courage to despair and grief. As such, it remains a timeless work of literature that speaks to us as powerfully today as it did when it was first written.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Subalterns: A Classic Poem by Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardy, the renowned English novelist and poet, is known for his realistic and pessimistic portrayal of life in his works. His poem, The Subalterns, is no exception. It is a powerful and poignant piece that captures the essence of war and the human condition.

The poem is set during the Boer War, which took place between 1899 and 1902 in South Africa. The British Empire was fighting against the Boer Republics, and Hardy's poem focuses on the experiences of the soldiers who fought in this conflict. The poem is divided into three stanzas, each of which presents a different perspective on the war.

The first stanza introduces us to the soldiers, who are referred to as "subalterns." These are the lower-ranking officers who are responsible for leading the troops into battle. The poem describes them as "young," "gay," and "brave," highlighting their youth and enthusiasm for the war. However, the use of the word "gay" is interesting, as it has a different connotation today than it did in Hardy's time. In the context of the poem, it means "happy" or "cheerful," but it also suggests a sense of naivety and innocence.

The second stanza shifts the focus to the aftermath of the battle. The soldiers are now described as "wounded," "dying," and "cold." The contrast between the first and second stanzas is stark, as the soldiers' youthful enthusiasm has been replaced by pain and suffering. The use of the word "cold" is particularly effective, as it not only refers to the physical temperature but also to the emotional distance between the soldiers and their loved ones back home.

The third and final stanza is the most powerful of the three. It presents a different perspective on the war, that of the women who are left behind. The poem describes them as "weeping," "lonely," and "bereft." They are the forgotten victims of the war, left to mourn the loss of their loved ones. The use of the word "bereft" is particularly poignant, as it suggests a sense of emptiness and loss that cannot be filled.

Overall, The Subalterns is a powerful and moving poem that captures the essence of war and its impact on those who fight in it and those who are left behind. Hardy's use of language is particularly effective, as he contrasts the youthful enthusiasm of the soldiers with the pain and suffering they experience on the battlefield. The final stanza, which focuses on the women left behind, is particularly powerful, as it highlights the forgotten victims of war and the emotional toll it takes on them.

In conclusion, The Subalterns is a classic poem that continues to resonate with readers today. It is a reminder of the human cost of war and the importance of remembering those who have sacrificed their lives for their country. Hardy's use of language and imagery is masterful, and the poem is a testament to his skill as a poet. It is a must-read for anyone interested in the literature of war and the human condition.

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