The Man He Killed

Thomas Hardy
  • Thomas Hardy
  • Had he and I but met
  • By some old ancient inn,
  • We should have set us down to wet
  • Right many a nipperkin!
  • But ranged as infantry,
  • And staring face to face,
  • I shot at him as he at me,
  • And killed him in his place.
  • I shot him dead because—
  • Because he was my foe,
  • Just so: my foe of course he was;
  • That’s clear enough; although
  • He thought he’d ‘list, perhaps,
  • Off-hand like—just as I—
  • Was out of work—had sold his traps—
  • No other reason why.
  • Yes; quaint and curious war is!
  • You shoot a fellow down
  • You’d treat, if met where any bar is,
  • Or help to half a crown.

Thomas Hardy was born in 1840 in southwestern England to parents who loved music and literature. As a young man he learned French, German, Latin, and Greek. He was apprenticed to a local architect and then spent five years in London before returning to Dorchester as a church restorer. In the 1870s he began publishing a series of novels that became immensely popular and which have become classics of British literature, among them Far from the Madding Crowd, The Return of the Native, The Mayor of Casterbridge, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, and Jude the Obscure. The latter two novels were scandalous and the outcry against Jude the Obscure, which was condemned by many Victorian critics as obscene, was so great that Hardy decided to stop writing novels and return to his first great love, poetry. Though his reputation during his own lifetime was mainly as a novelist, today he is also considered a major British poet. Hardy died in 1928 at the age of 87. “The Man He Killed,” one of his best-known poems, reveals Hardy’s characteristic refusal to accept the conventional attitudes of his time: the “enemy,” he reminds us, is not the embodiment of evil that we would like to imagine, but an ordinary person much like ourselves. A “nipperkin” is a small cup.

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