The poem I chose for this essay is “The Man He Killed” by Thomas Hardy. It was written in 1902, and published at the time of the Second Boer War between the British Empire and combined forces of the South African Republic and the Orange Free State. The poem examines the internal battle any soldier is going through as they are faced with a choice of whether to kill someone or not. It portrays realistic struggles an unnamed protagonist has to go through as he tries to justify him killing another man but ultimately fails. The reason why I chose this short poem is Hardy’s bravery to write a piece that manages to publicly criticize the British government and its quest for world dominance through colonialism. “The Man He Killed” is a rebellious and innovative poem that brings the war down to a personal level to help readers understand the horrors and absurdity of it by making them relate to the main character, an ordinary soldier. The most interesting part of the poem, however, is the tragic abundance of alternatives for the two men had they not met on the battlefield, but at a bar somewhere to “help to half-a-crown” (Hardy, line 20).
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The first picture that relates to the themes of the poem is Face of War by Salvador Dali because it shows the horror and absurdity of the beginning of WWI, and Dali, just like Hardy, tries to express his own attitude towards war and violence through his work. The second picture that caught my attention was “CND Soldiers” by a famous street artist Banksy who had done graffiti outside the House of Parliament in the UK. The work is supposed to demonstrate the soldiers’ protest against the 2003 Iraq war by portraying two men in uniforms painting a red peace sign. Both Face of War and “CND Soldiers” represent Hardy’s views on violence, war, and bloodshed. The graffiti by Banksy, however, offers a modern perspective on Western interventions into military conflicts in the Middle East.
The painting “Crossroads” by Ben Will is a straightforward representation of what someone is faced with while making an important choice. While the field is bright and yellow, the sky remains murky and cloudy, which could represent the horrible outcomes of a certain path. The protagonist in Hardy’s poem mentions meeting his victim at a bar or “by some old ancient inn” (Hardy, line 2). Therefore, I decided to include a painting of an old tavern that manages to show how loud, fun, and carefree the atmosphere of such a place would be. The tavern in Sailors Carousing by Julius Caesar Ibbetson is a complete opposite of the brutal battlefield described in “The Man He Killed.” By the end of the poem, the protagonist fails to justify his actions and accepts the feelings of guilt and remorse after killing a person. Sailors Carousing and “Crossroads” relate to the same theme of a positive alternative that would be possible if not for the war. The figurative painting “REGRET” by Hana Davis represents the main character and his inability to stay unfazed by his violent actions towards a fellow human being. It is apparent that he blames the regime and the war, but he can’t help but blame himself as well.
In the first paragraph, I would briefly describe the poem and the important topics that it raises, including unnecessary violence and colonial wars, as well as the burden of choice and guilt. The second paragraph would focus on Face of War and “CND soldiers,” their role in demonstrating the author’s attitude towards the war. This paragraph could also mention the importance of art in starting conversations about social and political issues. The third paragraph would be about the possibilities and ‘what ifs’ the soldier is facing in “The Man He Killed.” The focus of the paragraph is going to be two paintings: Sailors Carousing and “Crossroads.” In the fourth paragraph, I would like to examine the protagonist’s breaking point when he realizes what he had done (“REGRET”). The fifth paragraph is going to briefly summarize all the points and serve as a conclusion.
Banksy. “CND Soldiers.” 2005. MyArtBroker. Web.
Dali, Salvador. Face of War. 1940. Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, Rotterdam. The 8 Percent. Web.
Davis, Hana. “REGRET.” Saatchi Art. Web.
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Hardy, Thomas. “The Man He Killed.” 1902. Poets. Web.
Ibbetson, Julius Caesar. Sailors Carousing. 1802. National Maritime Museum. Collections. Web.
Will, Ben. “Crossroads.” Saatchi Art. Web.