17 pages 34 minutes read

Thomas Hardy

Channel Firing

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 1914

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Summary and Study Guide


English poet and novelist Thomas Hardy wrote “Channel Firing” in May of 1914, only three months before the beginning of WWI. Eerily prophetic, the poem depicts the global chaos and destruction that soon followed. Overlaid by tones of satire and irony, the poem details the violence of war and humanity’s age-old proclivity toward it through a conversation between God and the dead. Hardy, although best known for his earlier novels, received positive reception concerning war poems that notably focused on the Boer War and, later, World War I. “Channel Firing” is told from the point of view of the dead as the sounds of war shake them awake and they wonder aloud whether these explosions signal the coming of Judgment Day.

Poet Biography

Thomas Hardy, one of the most well-known English writers in literature, was born in the English county of Dorset in 1840. Although he frequently traveled back and forth to London until his seventies, the quaint setting of Dorset remained Hardy’s greatest literary muse. The provincial English countryside deeply inspired much of his work, as well as the nefarious characters and situations that emerged from those settings. Hardy’s father was a stonemason and fiddler who influenced Hardy’s sense of musicality with language, and his mother, Jemima Hand Hardy, is often described as a guiding star in Hardy’s early life. Hardy’s interest in English rural life also included an interest in ancient and medieval ruins like those of Stonehenge, a theme that pops up repeatedly throughout Hardy’s work.

Hardy’s long and prolific career spanned the Victorian, Edwardian, and Pre-War periods and into the late Roaring ‘20s. Although his early novels like Tess of the d’Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure are Victorian Realist novels, Hardy’s poetry has been appreciated and studied within the context of Modernism as well. From 1898 until his death in 1928, Hardy published eight volumes of poetry, amounting to approximately 1,000 poems, numerous novels, and a massive poetic drama.

Poem Text

Hardy, Thomas. “Channel Firing.” 1914. Poetry Foundation.


The poem describes a night during which guns are setting off explosions that are so loud and violent they wake the dead. The dead wonder whether this is a signal of the end of the world. God answers their question, saying that it is not the end of the world or Judgment Day; it is simply the military practicing for war. He says the world has not changed very much since the dead were laid to rest—men still wage war and continue to make war even deadlier than in the past. The dead wonder aloud if the world will ever be less brutal than the century in which they died, and if they should have just stuck to living a simpler life. But even still, the guns are blazing and disturbing them from out at sea. The vengeful sounds are so loud that they can be heard all over England.