Hardy Discussion: ‘The Men Who March Away’

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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13 thoughts on “Hardy Discussion: ‘The Men Who March Away’”

  1. Hi all: any comments about ‘The Men Who March Away’ should be left here.

    I’m sorry I couldn’t update on the weekend– but please feel free to begin the discussion now!

  2. I think that because the poem was written only one month after the beginning of the war that it contains patriotic symbolism for instance refering to England as a woman makes it seem that it is the duty of the men to protect ‘her’.
    It also critises those men who didn’t automatically sign up to fight. The soldiers are almost calling the onlooker a coward by accusing him of being ‘hoodwinked’. The soldiers think that the on looker is being too analytical.

  3. I think hardy was not quite sure of his own opinion so this poem is a mixture. One one hand he is talking about the war being a dangerous place. “night is growing gray,” the night to imply that soldiers have to kill their emotions and go off to fight. hey have to pretend they are blind so that they are able to commit murder in order to serve their country. “gray” has negative associations like: smoke,loss and depression. it is reminiscence of the many deaths due to the gas poisoning soldiers experienced. “…faith and fire…” the hard alliteration in the first line can only foreshadow something negative. “faith” and “fire” is a paradox faith to associate with religion and fire to associate with the devil.
    Basically i think Hardy’s message is war has negative consequences but its part of life and someone has to fight for ones country. Therefore i think that Hardy has written in favor of war but he has also discussed the psychological impact on the soldiers and the pain associated with war.

  4. The patriotism at the start of the war was a result of pure ignorance of what was about to follow in the next 4 years and propaganda pushed by the British government of the time.

    People cheered in the streets when soldiers marched off and waved white feathers at those who stayed.

    Although the British people were very optimistic at the start of the war I feel as though there will always be a tiny amount of doubt in every optimist. This is what Hardy does extremely effectively in the ‘the men who march away’. He briefly touches on a small amount of doubt with the friend who is absorbed in thought.

    Hardy purposefully makes this poem ambiguous as it would have been an unpopular notion at the start of the war to have doubts. He allows the war time reader to perhaps express their own inner doubts with a ‘musing eye’.

  5. In this poem, Thomas Hardy was told to write a aspiring and joyful poem which would motivate the soldiers to perform better. However in this poem, despite it implying the positive view of war, Thomas Hardy still sustains the harshness and brutality of war. By the quote “some may not see— Dalliers as they be—” it implies that cowardice is not an option and soldiers are meant to be strong and confident at all times. This poem is a pro war poem, so it does not highlight the harsh reality of war.
    As this is a pro war poem, the harsh reality of war is hidden and we are only shown half the picture.

  6. ‘Men who march away’ was written by Thomas hardy and was published in a newpaper, 1 month after the war had started.By this time many people were starting to realise the reality of war, many articles were being published about the injuries and consequences that war was bringing, and many many people started to panick.Thomas hardy wrote this poem to ease the panick, even though he had a very pessimistic view on the world.Hardy describes a man standing by watching the soldiers march to war ‘friend with the musing eye, who watch us stepping by with doubt and dolorius sigh?’ the onlooker is anti war and obviously knows the reality of war by his doubt and sadness of not knowing whether these hundreds upon hundreds of men will ever return.Hardy uses this one onlooker to symbolise the majority of people around that time and their doubt and sadness of the men at war.Hardy ressures the onlooker with ‘faith and fire within us men who march away’ by the us of the word faith that hardy uses to represent how the soldiers felt, shows the onlooker that he should also have faith with the ‘men who march away’.

  7. Thomas Hardy, the poet of this poem, was born in the 1840s and as he grew up he faced the difficult times when Britain was at war with Russia in the Crimean war. Hardy experienced the realities of war so we can infer that his pessimism in this poem gives us a image of the fear the soldiers have when they are marched away. I think that one of Thomas Hardy’s pessimistic ideas is that war is an ongoing process; I think this is why he uses a cyclical structure in the poem.

  8. I think this poem shows the reality of the war, as Abdul said. Hardy describes England as if it’s a woman and Hardy thinks that they should protect ‘her’. The poet uses emotive imagery throughout the poem to persuade soldiers to join the army as if ‘she’, the country, needs them.

  9. I think the lines “press we to the field ungrieving, In our heart of hearts believing” shows the army’s morale and state of mind. Everyone in the army knows that the threat of death looms over them but they’d rather die in the army then to not fight for there country at all.

  10. The poem was written at the beginning of the First World War. He wrote this poem in the period of time when propaganda was being used a lot to make it seem good and honourable to fight for your country. I think he wrote the poem “The Men Who March Away” to reassure people that Britain will win the war. This poem also seems to try and get people to join up who haven’t already. This is then portraying war to be good and honourable to anyone who joins. Which we later find out wasn’t always the case!

  11. Unlike other poems from World War One, this poem comes from a poet who has an older perspective of war. This poem was written at the beginning of the war when most people followed the propaganda of war being honourable and also believed that war would be over by Christmas. This poem has similar values as it suggests confidence of victory at the beginning and end of the poem with the stanza sounding almost like a chorus which almost gives it a joyful sense of war. By him saying ‘Her distress would leave us rueing:’ Personification is used to make Britain sound almost like a female, urging men to be masculine and help her. It almost makes males feel needed and special as without their help, she will suffer. This poem seems like it’s a call to men to join the army and for the soldiers to perform to the best of their abilities, however this poem hides the harsh realities of war, which is almost dishonest to the reader. I think maybe as it was so early on in the war, that harsh realities maybe hadn’t been portrayed in the media as this was left to soldiers like Wilfred Owen, but Thomas Hardy does not even highlight what bad things could have happened in the war, making this poem follow propaganda.

  12. The first lines of Hardy’s soldier song reflect a puzzled grief ‘What of the faith and fire within us Men who march away?’ This question betrays a sense of confusion and suggests that he does not fully understand why he and his youthfully innocent companions have been brought to war. These lines further reveal a feeling of grief, grief at the loss of youth. It shows a sense of passionate hatred for the propagandist poets who entice and force young men into going to war. As they know nothing of the realities of war, the conditions are unimaginable to them ye. They are quick to pass judgement on those who have not signed up.

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