I love this poem, Channel Firing, by Thomas Hardy (picture from here), written just months before the beginning of WWI. Hardy was in his 70s & had lived through many wars in his lifetime. He could see another war approaching & wanted to remind us that war is pointless. The perspective of a group of dead soldiers from some other war woken by gunnery practice shows that nothing ever changes. As God says, “The world is as it used to be”. There’s even a touch of Emily Dickinson in that opening image, “We thought it was the Judgment-Day / And sat upright.” although I don’t know if Hardy ever read her. And, of course, Hardy ends with references to Camelot & Stonehenge, that historical England that was so much a part of his artistic vision.
That night your great guns, unawares,
Shook all our coffins as we lay,
And broke the chancel window-squares,
We thought it was the Judgment-day
And sat upright. While drearisome
Arose the howl of wakened hounds:
The mouse let fall the altar-crumb,
The worms drew back into the mounds,
The glebe cow drooled. Till God called, “No;
It’s gunnery practice out at sea
Just as before you went below;
The world is as it used to be:
“All nations striving strong to make
Red war yet redder. Mad as hatters
They do no more for Christés sake
Than you who are helpless in such matters.
“That this is not the judgment-hour
For some of them’s a blessed thing,
For if it were they’d have to scour
Hell’s floor for so much threatening….
“Ha, ha. It will be warmer when
I blow the trumpet (if indeed
I ever do; for you are men,
And rest eternal sorely need).”
So down we lay again. “I wonder,
Will the world ever saner be,”
Said one, “than when He sent us under
In our indifferent century!”
And many a skeleton shook his head.
“Instead of preaching forty year,”
My neighbour Parson Thirdly said,
“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.