The Man he Killed
Had he and I but met
By some old ancient inn,
We should have set us down to wet
Right many a nipperkin!
nipperkin – a drink
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.
‘list – enlist, join the army
traps - belongings
quaint and curious - strange
Hardy wrote this poem in 1902, the year that the Second Boer War ended. Again he is exploring
the issue of the ordinary man plunged into the irrational situation of war (compare ‘Drummer
Hodge’ and ‘In Time of the Breaking of Nations’). Again the man is anonymous but this time we
are closer to him: he is telling his story in the first person “I shot at him as he at me’. And again
the form is that of a simple ballad with straightforward quatrains. This poem is written as if it were
a conversation, or at least, one half of a conversation. This puts us, the readers, into the position of
the person the soldier is talking to and makes his side of the conversation very immediate. It’s
being spoken directly to us.
As is the case in several of Hardy’s poems, the structure is a sawn-off syllogism. The first quatrain
starts ‘If’; the second “But’. But where is the solution? If there is one, it’s ‘Yes; quaint and
curious war is!’ In other words, what is the point? You kill a man who, in any other situation, you
would have offered a drink to. In the last quatrain, ‘war is’ is rhymed, ironically, with ‘bar is’. The
first quatrain dwells on the fact that the two of them would have had a drink together if they’d met
by an inn. The second states baldly that ‘I shot at him as he...