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Only a man harrowing clods

In a slow, silent walk

With an old horse that stumbles and nods

Half asleep as they stalk.

Only thin smoke without flame

From the heaps of couch-grass;

Yet this will go onward the same

Though Dynasties pass.

Yonder a maid and her wight

Come whispering by:

War’s annals will cloud into night

Ere their story die.

Thomas Hardy (1840–1928) was a major British novelist and poet. Asked by a magazine in 1916 to write a heartening poem about the war in Europe, a war which by that time had become a horrific slaughter, he composed this quietly pointed 12-line poem suggesting that the ordinary life of humanity — a farmer with his old, trusty horse preparing his farmland for the new crop and young lovers strolling together — would remain long after the world war was no more than a forgotten chapter in mankind’s history. The title comes from Jeremiah: 51: “… for with thee will I break in pieces the nations, and with thee will I destroy kingdoms.” It is a chapter of the Hebrew scriptures in which Jehovah describes in lurid detail his plans for the annihilation of Babylon and the inhabitants of Chaldea.

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