Poem Review: The Man He Killed by Thomas Hardy

I found this poem to be exceedingly intriguing. War poems always are. They always seem so genuine and honest, and honesty is something that tends to get lost on us sometimes. The man in this poem tells of a time of a man’s death. Though he tells of another man’s death, I believe he is conveying his own demise as well. I believe this poem is told of that of a dead man walking, although physically alive, there is something crucial to existence missing in him. War tends to do that to you. Even if you don’t die, are you really truly alive? This man seems to have been desensitized to the world and everyone around him. He’s a walking shadow of his former self, lost with nowhere to go. Although he is wandering aimlessly, he is still being controlled to do the bidding of another. A man is meant to do the bidding of whatever war expects of you, which is to kill your enemy, even if you don’t fully understand why.

This lost man explains why he did it, why he killed that man, although, I’m not really sure he honestly knows why. He does know however, that perhaps, if the circumstances where different, that man and himself could have been friends, or at least acquaintances sharing a drink together as fellow human beings, for we are all essentially the same.  It is truly a shame however that they turned out to be on the opposite sides of the fight. The lost boys stared at each other, face to face, and automatically, as if being controlled from an outside force that made no sense to either of them, took out their guns and open fired. Our lost soul was the victor, as he was the surviving man, though… was he really the man who lived?

The man kills him dead. Our lost solider tries to explain why, tries to make sense of what just happened, and his explanation is sound. That man was his enemy. He did what he had to do; it was his job. His explanation sounds rehearsed as if he’s not entirely sure of the words coming from his own mouth, or did the war own that too? Deep down, he did not want to kill that man, it was just a conditioned response, which makes it just sad. These two men, standing face to face, drew at each other like they think they ought to, and one was the survivor. Perhaps it was just luck, but that’s war. Afterwards, the man just went on his way, contemplated how quaint and curious war was; “You shoot a fellow down”. How tragic.

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