Drummer Hodge

A Little bit of background knowledge:-
-Drummer boys were used to carry messages and ammunition to the front line and were very vulnerable.
-It was written in 1899.
-This was a few weeks after the start of the second Boer war.

General Overview:-
The poem tells the story of a British soldier during the Boer War period in South Africa who is buried without ceremony and in a very foreign environment especially considering that he came from a village in Dorset.
Throughout the poem there is:
-A contrast between his humble roots and the exotic South African landscape.
-Repeated use of the description of ‘unfamiliar stars’ watching over his grave.
-Use of the idea that Hodge become part of the landscape.
-A sense that Hardy is trying to convey how literature is a peaceful and beautiful way to immortalize someone rather than trying to be a war hero.

Close Analysis:
Stanza 1-
1.‘They throw in Drummer Hodge to rest
Uncoffined just as found’
•The use of the word throw indicates a careless attitude towards the soldier. It may indicate that strangers found him (Boer soldiers?) rather than his comrades. Suggests he was not given a proper burial.
•Hodge is a bit of a nobody. The use of the name Hodge may represent the average soldier , (i.e. Hodge represents all the unfortunate drummer boys/regular soldiers who died in the war and were forgotten)
•However, the irony is that due to the fact Hardy has given him a name ‘Drummer Hodge’ he has that to live (be remembered) by even though he has no coffin or burial.
•These lines set up the tone for the entire piece and sums up the attitude which the poem wishes to convey, which is that war is so unforgiving and pointless. No one gains anything from it despite the risks taken and the lives lost. Someone like Drummer Hodge who had to complete very brave tasks didn’t even get a respectful burial. This shows how war can be cruel to innocent people (in this case Drummer Hodge).

2.‘His landmark is a kopje crest
That breaks the veldt around’
•These lines suggest that Hodge has not even been given a marked grave. Hardy is trying to convey to the reader that war is not the way to achieve immortality but instead Hardy manages to immortalize Hodge by writing this poem (much more memorable).
•‘Kopje’ is Afrikaans for small isolated hill.
•The use of the native language amongst the English vocabulary further highlights how alone drummer Hodge is. It should also be pointed out that ‘Kopje’ is literally a small, isolated word within this stanza, which re-presents how small and isolated Hodge is (the literal isolation of the word highlights Hodge’s situation).
•It is to be noted that the environment is so foreign it forms a ‘veldt’ around him, which originates from Afrikaans meaning an elevated open grass land. Hodge is literally surrounded, trapped and encircled by this foreign environment. This has to be read in the context that Hodge comes from a village in Dorset. It also relates to what is said in the summary of the poem which is that it seems as if Hodge is becoming a part of the landscape.
•The reader can relate to the sentiments that Hodge must have felt because the alienating diction because they are unfamiliar and strange to anyone.

3.‘And foreign constellations west
Each night above his mound’
•This confirms what was being suggested in the previous lines, because we encounter the word ‘foreign’.
•It also confirms the suspicion that he was never taken back home and he died there (previously suggested by use of Afrikaans language/originated words).

General stanza points:-
•The only marks of his ‘grave’ have been described with use of words such as ‘Kopje’, and ‘veldt’. There is also a description of foreign stars over his mound, again emphasizing how isolated and trapped he is.
•The reference to the stars and constellations recurs frequently and suggests a divine, immortal property about Drummer Hodge despite his seemingly unimportant job. Hardy may try to convey this idea by the fact that he has made Hodge immortal with use of poetry and words rather than war (based on his negative views on the Boer War).

Stanza 2
1.‘Young Hodge the drummer never knew
Fresh from his Wessex home
The meaning of the broad Karoo’
•The fact Hodge did not know the meaning of the broad Karoo could be an attempt to de-glamourize war because Hodge did not know what he was letting himself into. What is meant by this is that he is obviously a young boy (from historical context/knowledge about drummer boys) and the appeal of traveling somewhere far away from home may have seemed exciting but he didn’t know what the consequences would be in following up on that curiosity.
•The fact we know he was extremely young (which triggers huge sympathy and a sense of regret because such a young and hopeful life was wasted) is not only due to the fact he was a drummer boy but he described using words such as ‘Young’ and ‘Fresh from his Wessex home’ ; he was probably under the age of 17.

2.‘The Bush, the dusty loam
And why uprose to nightly view
Strange stars amid the gloam’
•The list of unexpected things Hodge never knew about further illustrates and extends on the point that Hodge didn’t truly understand what he was signing up for. It can be said that he didn’t even know the meaning of war (symbolised by his lack of knowledge of South Africa).
•He places the word strange in front of stars means that despite the fact the boy had travelled all this way, he didn’t even get to learn and appreciate South Africa. It can also just emphasize how young he was and how much more he had to learn and experience before he died, but as we know he will ‘eternally’ be unaware of so many wonders the world has to offer.
•Throughout the poem there are references to immortality due to use of words such as ‘eternally’, another way to interpret this is that Hodge will forever remain in the state of mind of a young boy, which could be seen as a good thing but due to the exoticness of the description of South Africa makes the fact he will eternally remain naïve a very sad fate.
•This description of South Africa is purposely placed after the description of Hodge’s Dorset village in order to highlight the contrast between the two environments.
•The fact that the words such as kopje and South Africa seem foreign to us even with the standard of today’s communication with the whole world and resources of information really emphasizes what it must have felt like to be Drummer Hodge.

General stanza points: –•This stanza highlights Hodge’s naivety and his lack of awareness of his situation. This can further imply that he didn’t have the capacity to understand what war meant and its consequences, which seems very unfair.

Stanza 3
1.‘Yet portion of that unknown plain
Will Hodge for ever be;
His homely Northern breast and brain
Grow to some Southern tree’
•This begs the question as to what was the point in Hodge dying. He now remains as part of the landscape which will go back to looking how it did before, without a trace of his sacrifice.
•The fact he is now blended in with the environment really drums in the permanence of his death. This again is a possible reference to Hardy’s point which is that Hodge will not be remembered because of the war but because of Hardy’s poetry and words.

2.‘And strange-eyed constellations reign
His stars eternally.’
•This is suggesting that his fate is now determined by foreign forces.
•‘Eternally’ is a key word in this poem because Drummer Hodge’s death is eternal in the sense that he will always be buried there and will remain there forever; it also suggests yet again the ‘eternal’ memory of Hodge that Hardy has produced: alone, isolated and scared.

General stanza points:
•The stanza emphasizes the uselessness of the boy’s death.
•Hardy envokes sympathy because Hodge will forever remain ‘buried’ in a foreign land.

Overall Points
The ABAB rhyme scheme is common for traditional English hymns, which is appropriate for the poem.
-Drummer Hodge’s life was short like the rhythmic cadence of a drum and the short length of lines in the poem.
-The tetrameter (8 syllables, 4 beats of stress per line) followed trimeter (6 syllables, 3 beats per line) resembles the rhythmic cadence of a drum, hence the title drummer Hodge.
Hardy wanted to convey that:-
-War is not as glamorous as it sounds or seems like, (specifically young boys in this poem).
-War is not a way to achieve immortality.
-War causes such unnecessary deaths.
-Drummer Hodge was too young and it was unfair that he died.

By Victoria Leigh

19 thoughts on “Drummer Hodge

  1. Pingback: Great Students Inspire: Thomas Hardy Exam Resource | Great Writers Inspire

  2. Great analysis overall but I do not agree with the assessment where his fate is controlled by foreign forces.. I do not sense any “control” but rather a total sense of no fate at all… A total and tragic due to the senselessness of war

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