The Man He Killed Poem Analysis and Summary: Thomas Hardy

Read below our complete notes on the poem “The Man He Killed” by Thomas Hardy. Our notes cover The Man He Killed analysis, summary, themes, and an introduction.

The Man He Killed Introduction:

Thomas Hardy, the world’s predominating novelist and poet, was born on June 2, 1948, in Dorset, England. He inherited the love for reading and books from his mother. He spent his early life in a rural atmosphere that has an influence on the subject matters of his novels. Living in London, during the period of his early career, he was quit predisposed by the works of Robert Browning, Charles Swinburne, and Charles Darwin. His first novel was The Poor Man and the Lady.  Other important works include Jude the obscure (novel), Tess of the d’Urbervilles (novel). The Dynast and the Winter Words are the two volumes of his poetry and short stories appeared in 1903-08 and 1928, respective.  He died on 11 January 1928 and was buried in Westminster Abbey in the poet’s corner.

The Man He Killed by Thomas Hardy was published 1909 in the book Time’s Laughingstocks and Other Verses by Harper’s weekly magazine. This collection comprises poems of several dates, mostly concerned with pastoral, matrimonial, and provincial life.

The Man He Killed, by Thomas Hardy, is a dramatic monologue in the speech of returned soldier from war. The poem stages the battle scene between two men. In this poem, Thomas Hardy constructs a narrator who is still preoccupied with thoughts of human life he devastated while serving his country in the war.

The Man He Killed Summary:

The Man He Killed, by Thomas Hardy, is a dramatic monologue in the speech of a returned soldier. This poem is written during the 2nd Boer Wars (1899- 1902). The poem describes the ridiculous status quo of war and the shrinking, diminishing devoted intentions of the soldiers that meet each other in the theatre of war.

In the poem, Hardy puts himself in the perspective of a common people and asks bigger questions regarding the purpose of the war in general except destruction and loss.

The speaker in the poem begins by memorizing a time when he shot a man in a war for the safety of his country or infantry. He, then, imagine a situation and realizes that what if they had encountered each other in an inn instead of on the frontline? The speaker says that they could have had an impressive old time.

Furthermore, the narrator illustrates in what way he murdered the fellow and tries to clarify his action. He sees the man as his enemy, the image establishes by the battlefield, looking at each other from opposite sides. The speaker, after a long thought, mentions one reason for killing the man. He says that he killed a man because he was his foe; however, he is not able to explain why the soldier is his enemy.

The poem beautifully and implicitly illustrates the class difference in the society. The speaker mentions that he shot the man because he came to the frontline either to shot other or to be shot by others. According to the speaker, all those who are fighting on the front line is not because of their love for the infantry, but some of them are here to earn money. They belong to the lower class of society and to earn the bread, they have to go on deadly frontlines in the war.

The speaker speaks of the cruelty of the war that one has to shot a person, whom he is supposed to share a drink or help him out when there is a financial crisis. The adults announce the war, and it is youth who suffers.

The Man He Killed Themes:

Following are the major themes in the poem The Man He Killed:

Warfare:

The poem is not an average war poem but a straight outbreak of the worship of war. There is no magnificent oversimplification of war in the poem regarding grandeur, martyr and battle scenes. The poem concentrates on the negative aspects of war. The speaker speaks of the cruelty of the war that one has to shot a person, whom he is supposed to share a drink or help him out when there is a financial crisis. The adults announce the war, and it is youth who suffers.

Guilt:

After returning from the war, the speaker is hunted by the thought of the war especially killing of the innocent people who came on the front line just to earn some money for their family. In the poem, the guilt seems to be evident when the speaker tries to explain why he killed a man. The speaker didn’t satisfy with the explanation claims in more guilt that he killed a man who is just like himself.

Class Difference and Society:

It is often thought that everyone on the battlefield is equal; everyone has to face the same consequences, but this is not a fact. The speaker, being poor is enlisted as an infantryman for the frontline, who is supposed to take orders from the superior authority. It is the richer one, the authoritative one who commences while only the war and the poor one suffers. This shows the class difference in our society. The speaker wonders when will this end.

The Man He Killed Analysis:

Stanza 1:

The speaker in the poem, The Man He Killed, begin by narrating the story of an unnamed man that he killed on the frontline during in face to face encounter. The speaker, in the first stanza, wonders what would be the condition if they met in different, normal circumstances. For instance, in the inn or bar and would share some drink.

The systematic pattern of the rhyme and the iambic rhythm in the stanza suggests that the speaker/ narrator is being controlled by his emotions and feelings. The speaker produces the welcoming and acquainted picture of a bar to propose that if he and his target had “met” around, they would sit down and share a drink. The picture of a bar, illustrated by the speaker, appeals to the reader’s sense of sight, taste and hearing, and discloses that a speaker is a friendly man, who enjoys the company of others.

Stanza 2:

The speaker unveils the unnamed person that he killed in this stanza. The unnamed person is a soldier of the opposite camp in a war that they fought against. Both the speaker and the other man are infantrymen enlisted on the frontline in the war and are supposed to take orders from the authority. Both of them came face to face in an encounter and shot each other, however, it is the other soldier who died.

The speaker starts the second stanza with a “but” which make readers curious about the contrast of the following setting and actions of the poem. The speaker says that instead of sitting together in a bar, the speaker and the other soldier (his victim) are “ranged as infantry”. It is because of the battlefield that makes them enemies or else they would be good friends sitting together in an inn.

The speaker illustrates an unfriendly action when he says “I shot him” instead of sharing a cup of tea.  Now the speaker thinks that he become a killer as he fulfilled his responsibility as an infantryman.

Stanza 3:

In this stanza, the speaker tries to justify and explain his act of killing the man on the battlefield. He justifies his action by calling him his enemy, an enemy created by a battlefield; however, he is not confident in explaining that why the man was his enemy.

The speaker’s thoughts and actions are marked by long pause and repetition when he tries to justify and explain his action of killing a man. The dash (-) used by speaker after ‘because’ creates uncertainty and proposes that his mind is in search of words to explain his action. In order to convince himself, the speaker, two times, speaks that his victim was his enemy.

Stanza 4:

In this stanza, the narrator mentions the reason what would make his victim fight on the frontline. He says that the other man, like him, must be out of work and “sold his traps”. The speaker’s guilt increases when he recognizes that the soldier he killed is just another person like him who is unemployed and in terrible need of money.

The speaker tries to deal with his movement of thoughts with the recurrent and substantial feelings of guilt at the remembrance of his deed. He realizes that he and his victim both are of the same kind of people, very much comparable in making their lives. We see the change of rhythm in the poem.

Stanza 5:

In this stanza, the speaker speaks of curious and quaint nature of war. The speaker mentions that he shot the man because he came to the frontline either to shot other or to be shot by others. While in other circumstances, they would sit together in a bar and would have shared a drink.

The speaker begins the stanza with exclamation “yes” which shows that he has gained some insight into the events that led him to kill another man. He realizes that it is the war that makes you an enemy of an unknown person who, in other place and time, would be friends that one would ‘treat’ or ‘help’. The speaker appears to have engrossed the guilt when he realizes that war is a real killer. The speech becomes again more rhythmic and regular in this stanza.

Rhyming Scheme:

The man He Killed is a five-stanza poem by Thomas Hardy having a rhyming Scheme of abab, cdcd, efef, ghgh, ijij.

Speaker:

The poem is the 1st person narrative in which the speaker/ narrator is a soldier who has returned from a war as a survivor. The narrator explains his haunted thoughts about killing a man in the war.

Setting:

The Man He Killed is one of the Hardy’s famous poem that he wrote after the Boer wars. The setting of the poem is a battlefield where the speaker meets an unknown person for the first time and he killed that unknown person because he was his enemy created by the battlefield.

Structure Analysis:

This poem is a dramatic monologue written in ballad form in the speech of a returned soldier. The poem consists of 5 stanzas each having four lines with regular rhyme. There are six syllables in every line of each stanza except the 3rd line of stanza which consists of eight syllables.

Figures of Speeches:

Following are the figures of speeches in the poem The Man He Killed:

  • Alliteration:

To create rhyme and rhythm in the poem, the poet uses alliteration. For instance

  1. Had he and I but met.
  2. I shot at him as he at me.
  3. Or help to half-a-crown.
  • Simile:

The poet uses simile in the following line to draw an explicit comparison:

But ranged as infantry,

And staring face to face.