A poem from another war this week. Hardy’s Drummer Hodge is about a young Wessex soldier, killed during the Boer War in South Africa & buried under a foreign sky, with “strange stars amid the gloam“. I thought of this poem because I read an article in the latest BBC History magazine about the Relief of Mafeking & that reminded me that, in Testament of Youth, Vera Brittain writes that the celebrations for the Relief were among her earliest memories (another coincidence – if you read the article on the Relief in History Today that I’ve linked to, you’ll see another highlighted article, about Somerville College as a military hospital in WWI. Is it any wonder that I spend too much time on the internet when one thing leads to another like that?).
The mentions of the veldt, the kopje & the Karoo also reminded me of one of Vera & Roland’s favourite books, The Story of an African Farm by Olive Schreiner. I read this many years ago & remember being unimpressed by it. I probably read it in the afterglow of my first reading of Testament of Youth. I feel that I should read it again & see how I feel about it 35 years later.
They throw in Drummer Hodge, to rest
Uncoffined — just as found:
His landmark is a kopje-crest
That breaks the veldt around:
And foreign constellations west
Each night above his mound.
Young Hodge the drummer never knew —
Fresh from his Wessex home —
The meaning of the broad Karoo,
The Bush, the dusty loam,
And why uprose to nightly view
Strange stars amid the gloam.
Yet portion of that unknown plain
Will Hodge for ever be;
His homely Northern breast and brain
Grow to some Southern tree,
And strange-eyed constellations reign
His stars eternally.