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How Do the Poems of the Boer War Demonstrate the Pity and Tragedy of War?

  • Date Submitted: 07/13/2011 06:35 AM
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How Do The Poems Of The Boer War Demonstrate The Pity And Tragedy Of War?

The Boer War began as a struggle between British and Dutch “Boer” settlers for control of diamond and gold deposits in South Africa. Despite suffering early defeats, the British army claimed victory in 1900. However, the Boers continued to fight using guerrilla tactics. The British eventually halted this by creating the first concentration camps; women and children rounded up and farms burned.

The spread of education in the nineteenth century had produced a flood of popular newspapers and magazines so much poetry was published. Most was crude verse written by soldiers, but the most impressive poems came from war correspondents at the front or from civilians waiting for their loved ones to return. Antipathy to war was a striking theme of this writing. I have studied five examples of such poems; “Drummer Hodge” and “A Wife in London” by Hardy, “War” by Edgar Wallace and “Dirge of Dead Sisters” and “The Hyaenas” by Kipling.

Thomas Hardy, already famous for his novels and powerful imagination, read of the death of a young drummer boy, and thought it tragic that a boy too young to understand war should be buried in alien land far from home. He felt compelled to write “Drummer Hodge”, a poem about this boy. First, Hardy describes Hodge as thrown in “uncoffined” under “strange-eyed constellations”, showing how Hodge was buried without dignity or regard in foreign lands he didn’t understand, and compares Hodge’s short life to the “eternal ” reign of the constellations, making the reader pity Hodge dying before he had ever really lived. Hodge never knew the “meaning of the broad Karoo”, highlights   he didn’t know what he was fighting for or ultimately had died for, making his death seem pointless and tragic. An emphasis is put on Hodge’s foreign surroundings when Hardy uses South African words such as “kopje” so that the reader feels disorientated and empathises with the plight of Hodge...

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