Text of the Poem

That night your great guns, unawares,
Shook all our coffins as we lay,
And broke the chancel window-squares,
We thought it was the Judgment-day

And sat upright. While drearisome
Arose the howl of wakened hounds:
The mouse let fall the altar-crumb,
The worms drew back into the mounds,

The glebe cow drooled. Till God called, 'No;
It’s gunnery practise out at sea
Just as before you went below;
The world is as it used to be:

'And all nations striving strong to make
Red war yet redder. Mad as hatters
They do no more for Christés sake
Than you who are helpless in such matters.

'That this is not the judgement-hour
For some of them’s a blessed thing,
For if it were they’d have to scour
Hell’s floor for so much threatening...

'Ha, ha. It will be warmer when
I blow the trumpet (if indeed
I ever do; for you are men,
And rest eternal sorely need).'

So down we lay again. 'I wonder,
Will the world ever saner be,'
Said one, ‘than when He sent us under
In our indifferent century!'

And many a skeleton shook his head.
'Instead of preaching forty year,'
My neighbour Parson Thirdly said,
'I wish I had stuck to pipes and beer.'

Again the guns disturbed the hour,
Roaring their readiness to avenge,
As far inland as Stourton Tower,
And Camelot, and starlit Stonehenge.


  1. Hardy alludes to the fictional Court of Camelot and prehistoric Stonehenge, both of which are British cultural icons. Tales of Camelot’s legendary King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table often still evoke nostalgia for a glorious history of battles won under a remarkable leader. Stonehenge, which is thought to possibly have been used as a burial ground as early as 3000 BCE, also figures prominently in British history. In this context, Hardy’s allusions to Camelot and Stonehenge highlight the stakes of what his nation is preparing to avenge: the foundations of British identity itself.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  2. The verb “to avenge” means to intentionally cause harm as retribution for wrongdoing. In this context, gunnery practice is portrayed as posturing a nation’s “readiness” to violently return the harm inflicted by its enemies.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  3. Parson Thirdly wishes that he had enjoyed his life more instead of dedicating it to preaching the Word of God. He seems to believe that his years of piousness and servitude made no difference, given that the world is only more brutal and chaotic than it was when he died.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  4. The adverb “sorely” means to a high or extreme intensity. God hints that, when he “‘blow[s] the trumpet,’” the warmongers will be sent “‘to scour/ Hell’s floor’” as punishment for their warfare. Therefore, they sorely—or greatly—need “‘the judgment-hour’” to be postponed in favor of “‘rest[ing] eternal.’”

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  5. Hardy uses anaphora, or the repetition of words at the beginning of successive lines or phrases, to further underscore the immorality of warfare—as well as the sin of “‘striving strong to make/ Red war yet redder.’” God asserts that it is a good thing that Judgment Day has not arrived, for he would send these warmongers to hell.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  6. This phrase is a simile, which involves comparing two things using the words “like” or “as,” in God’s portrayal of nations striving to make war even bloodier. God emphasizes the warmongers’ insanity by comparing them to hatters, who often suffered physical and mental health effects from the chemicals used in hat-making.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  7. This phrase contains sibilance, a device in which words containing the letter “s” are repeated in succession so that they create a hissing sound when recited. The sibilance in the words “nations striving strong” indicates the relentlessness with which nations prepare themselves for a particularly bloody war.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  8. The third stanza introduces situational irony, or when an event occurs that is incongruous with the reader’s expectations. Hardy subverts the reader’s expectations, which are established by the seriousness of the preceding stanzas, by comedically introducing God after describing a drooling cow. Further, there is opportunity for the reader to momentarily interpret God’s assertive “No” to be intended for the cow—a situation that could be considered ridiculous.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  9. The word “glebe” refers to a plot of cultivated land used to generate revenue for a church or parish. Therefore, a “glebe cow” is a cow kept on this land for the purpose of making money for the church.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  10. The first two lines of the second stanza use enjambment, in which a thought, phrase, or idea that begins in one line continues into the next line. In this context, enjambment reinforces the poem’s rhythm while also creating a sense of anticipation as the speaker describes the dreary scene.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  11. Hardy uses a caesura in the first line of the second stanza by ending one phrase with a period before continuing onto the next phrase. A caesura is a pause within a line of poetry, typically in the form of punctuation such as a period (.), comma (,), em dash (—), or ellipses (...). Immediately interrupting the flow of the second stanza subverts the reader’s expectations of the poem’s rhythm, possibly foreshadowing the unexpected irony of the next stanza.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  12. Hardy alludes to the Christian belief in Judgment Day, or the Last Judgment. According to Christian doctrine, Judgment Day involves the end of the world as people know it. God will resurrect the dead and assign every human to spend eternity in heaven or in hell. In this context, the dead are disturbed by gunshots and assume that they are in the process of being resurrected.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  13. A “chancel” is an area of a church, often near the altar at the eastern side of the building. The chancel is usually reserved for the church’s choir or the clergy.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  14. Hardy begins “Channel Firing” with a line that includes alliteration, or the repetition of words containing the same consonant. The repetition of the letter “g” in “great guns” establishes the poem’s steady rhythm at the onset while calling attention to the disruptive guns that awaken the dead.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor