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This question is asking for open-ended interpretation of a poem. See here on meta for an explanation.


Thomas Hardy’s ‘The Man He Killed’ (1902) was published in Time’s Laughingstocks (1909):

    “Had he and I but met
    By some old ancient inn,
We should have sat us down to wet
    Right many a nipperkin!

    “But ranged as infantry,
    And staring face to face,
I shot at him as he at me.
    And killed him in his place.

    “I shot him dead because—
    Because he was my foe.
Just so: my foe of course he was;
    That’s clear enough; although

    “He thought he’d ’list, perhaps,
    Off-hand like—just as I—
Was out of work—had sold his traps—
    No other reason why.

    “Yes; quaint and curious war is!
    You shoot a fellow down
You’d treat if met where any bar is.
    Or help to half-a-crown.”

What is this poem about? What poetic and rhetorical techniques does Hardy use? What do we learn about the character and origins of the speaker? Is “old ancient” a pleonasm? What is the significance of “nipperkin”? Does “war is” rhyme with “bar is”?

  • A couple of thoughts, not enough for a full answer: (1) parsing "some old ancient" as "some old ancient" makes it seem less pleonastic, as "some old" is a common phrase which doesn't necessarily imply old age; (2) since Hardy is best known for his tales of the rural English countryside [there's a pleonasm for you!], I wonder if the narrator of this poem speaks in a particular regional accent in which "war is" and "bar is" do indeed rhyme. – Rand al'Thor Sep 17 at 12:18
  • I've (slightly reluctantly given the querent's local status) close-voted this for being too broad. As I'd expect Gareth to be well aware, a modicum of research is expected, the meaning of 'nipperkin' for example can be found in seconds with access to the internet, and members are expected to .'avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once'. If the subject of the poem seems obscure, what research has been done? TBH I'm just completely bemused why someone whose answers are regularly deemed the best of the quarter would present this question. I'll happily retract is it's improved. – Spagirl Sep 18 at 9:30
  • @Spagirl: See here on meta for an explanation of this experiment. – Gareth Rees Sep 18 at 9:45
  • I'd not seen that, would further comment about how I think this just sets a bad example of question standard expectations be more appropriate on Meta than here? – Spagirl Sep 18 at 9:56
  • @Spagirl: Chat is probably the best place for open-ended discussion, but anywhere is fine. – Gareth Rees Sep 18 at 10:01

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