Beginning at the beginning of First World War poetry, Stallworthy opens his collection of Great War poems with Hardy’s ‘The Men Who March Away’.

It is an ambiguous poem– we can’t say for sure what meaning it offers readers. Is it a straightforwardly patriotic poem? Does it voice doubts about the conflict?

Some critics contend that if we want to answer this question, we have to look to the “friend with the musing eye” in the second stanza: how he views the leaving soldiers, and how they view him.

What do you think this onlooker in the poem represents? Think about the time of the poem’s composition and the prevelant feelings about war at that time. Is ‘The Men Who March Away’ a straightforwardly patriotic poem? Is Hardy casting doubt on the patriotism of the time? Or is Hardy perhaps ambivalent about the conflict to come?

What do you think?

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