In Time of ‘The Breaking of Nations’

The poem was written for a Sunday conservation paper in January 1916. At this time the public started to turn against the war. Hardy was asked for a heartening poem.

The title of the poem is a direct quote from the Bible Jeremiah 51:20. ‘Thou art my battle axe and weapons of war: for with thee will I break in pieces the nations, and with thee will I destroy kingdoms.’ This adds emphasis to the war’s magnitude since it is compared to a biblical battle.

The poem itself is a series of comparisons between what Hardy considers the parts of country life to live on forever, never to be forgotten and the First World War which Hardy believes will not be remembered forever. So this poem really depicts war to not have significance since it will be forgotten however farmyard practices and youths falling in love will outlast war this giving to them more significance.

In line one a man is ‘harrowing clods’. This can have a double meaning. A farmer breaking up and turning over land so he can sew seeds and man breaking up Europe in terms of breaking boarders and physically breaking the ground with artillery. Harrowing also can mean depressing and a horrific thing to experience, a meaning which is much better suited to war.

The first stanza is very slow. It is slowed in a series of ways. Firstly, the whole stanza is one long sentence with no commas or pauses. It is also slowed down by the sibilance in line two, slow silent walk’. The ‘s’ sound slows it down. Also the frequent use of ‘a’ and ‘o’ sounds slow it down. It is seen in the words ‘stalk’, ‘slow’, ‘horse’. This gives more of an impression of a slow paced country life, rather than a fast paced war. Then Hardy mentions ‘only the thin smoke without flame’, this shows a rural life much more than war since in a war the smoke is thick and the fires are fierce.

Hardy says the rural things will go on for ‘dynasties past’ whereas war will not, this he sees war as inferior and less significant than country life since it will be out lived by it, it will be lost and forgotten whereas country life go on.
Then he says ‘yonder a maid and her wight’. Wight is an old word for knight, this shows a country love seen is timeless since it has gone on since wight was a fashionable word and will remain timeless through ‘dynasties past’, whereas war’s horrors will pass become temporary.

Hardy sees the couple scene as eternal whereas he thinks ‘war’s annals’ are temporary and will be forgotten, ‘Ere their story die’.

Key themes would be country life higher significance than war and country life being eternal while war is temporary.

By William Tudor

12 thoughts on “In Time of ‘The Breaking of Nations’

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

  2. Dear Mr William Tudor,

    This article is excellent, but I believe you may have gotten the definition of ‘wight’ wrong. When put into a search engine, almost all the sources refer to it as a ‘a spirit, ghost, or other supernatural being.’ Perhaps you have gotten this mixed up with some other equally archaic word?

    Kwan Ann Tan

  3. In Notes & Queries (Vol. 253 No. 1) March 2008 Kevin Morrison has added a new dimension to the poem and has given a fresh new perspective by discussing the periodical context of the “The Breaking of Nations” with special reference to contemporary discussions of the necessity of the great war that appeared in the periodical The Saturday Review.

  4. Pingback: Quora

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