The hill at Magersfontein overlooking the plain where the Battle of Magersfontein (Cape Colony, South Africa) was fought on 11 December 1899; looking south from the Boer position towards the British position in the distance. Remnants of the trenches can still be seen in the veldt. [In the "Black Week" of 10-17 December 1899, the British Army suffered devastating defeats by the Boer Republics at the battles of Stormberg (690 dead), Magersfontein (948) and Colenso (1,138), with a total 2,776 men killed, wounded and captured: photo by RAM, 16 January 2006
They throw in Drummer Hodge, to rest
Uncoffined -- just as found:
His landmark is a kopje-crest
That breaks the veldt around;
And foreign constellations west
Each night above his mound.
Young Hodge the Drummer never knew --
Fresh from his Wessex home --
The meaning of the broad Karoo,
The Bush, the dusty loam,
And why uprose to nightly view
Strange stars amid the gloam.
Yet portion of that unknown plain
Will Hodge for ever be;
His homely Northern breast and brain
Grow to some Southern tree,
And strange-eyed constellations reign
His stars eternally.
An observation balloon being prepared by the British Royal Engineers at the Battle of Magersfontein, with the hills occupied by the Boers in the background, 11 December 1899 : photographer unknown; image by Socrates2008, 11 August 2009; edit by Hohum, 9 November 2010
- The Battlefield of Elangslaagte (Second Boer War), 1899: photographer unknown; image by Socrates2008, 11 August 2009; edit by Vberger, 22 December 2008
Explosion of an ammunition wagon during the Battle of Paardeberg, Boer War. [On "Bloody Sunday", 18 February 1900, the first day of the Battle of Paardeburg, British Imperial forces suffered a total 1,100 casualties, with 280 killed -- the worst single day loss of the Second Boer War]: photographer unknown (Robert N. Dennis collection of stereoscopic views /Stephen A. Schwarzman Building / Photography Collection, Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs, New York Public Library)
This verse of Hardy's comes out of the Second Boer War. Not for a half century had Englishmen engaged other white men in mortal combat. Accordingly, the conflict stirred mixed feeling in British hearts, including that of the never-notoriously-softhearted Mr Hardy. In October 1899, the writer had ridden his bicycle to Southampton to stand on the docks and watch the troops departing for South Africa.
By the end of November, 60,000 young men had sailed off from Southampton to the distant war.
Hardy's note added to the poem Drummer Hodge on its first periodical appearance (under the title The Dead Drummer, in the magazine Literature): "One of the Drummers killed was a native of a village near Casterbridge". (He meant, near Dorchester -- i.e., a local lad.)
kopje = small hillock
veldt = grassy plain, savanna
Karoo = high arid plateau in South Africa
Hodge = patronising generic name for rustic labourer
Cf. Hardy's novel Tess of the D'Urbervilles:
"The conventional farm-folk of his imagination -- personified in the newspaper-press by the pitiable dummy known as Hodge -- were obliterated after a few days' residence. At close quarters no Hodge was to be seen... He had been disintegrated into a number of fellow-creatures -- beings of many minds, beings infinite in difference; some happy, some serene, a few depressed, one here and there bright even to genius, some stupid, others wanton, others austere; some mutely Miltonic, some potentially Cromwellian; into men who had private views of each other, as he had of his friends..."
Canopus, brightest star in the southern constellation of Carina and Argo Navis, and the second brightest star in the night sky, after Sirius. Canopus is about 300 light years from Earth in the southern hemisphere constellation Carina and is a rare class “F” yellow-white (7800 Kelvin) super giant. It is 65 times wider and 15,000 times more luminous than the Sun and is large enough to stretch three-fourths of the way across Mercury’s orbit: photo by astronaut Donald R. Pettit, ISS, March 2003 (NASA)
Thomas Hardy: Drummer Hodge, from Poems of the Past and the Present, 1901