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Read Poetry in Context: 'The Man He Killed'

In this worksheet, students read the poem 'The Man He Killed' by Thomas Hardy. Then they analyse the influence of the the social, historical and cultural context in which it is written.

Key stage:  KS 3

Curriculum topic:  Reading

Curriculum subtopic:  Support Comprehension Through Knowledge

Difficulty level:  

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QUESTION 1 of 10

First, read the following poem by Thomas Hardy:

 

 

**********************

The Man He Killed

 

 

Had he and I but met
By some old ancient inn,
We should have set us down to wet
Right many a nipperkin!

But ranged as infantry,
And staring face to face,
I shot at him as he at me,
And killed him in his place.

I shot him dead because--
Because he was my foe,
Just so: my foe of course he was;
That's clear enough; although

He thought he'd 'list, perhaps,
Off-hand like--just as I--
Was out of work--had sold his traps--
No other reason why.

Yes; quaint and curious war is!
You shoot a fellow down
You'd treat, if met where any bar is,
Or help to half a crown.

 

Thomas Hardy  (1902)

 

**********************

 

  

Next, we will answer some questions on the poem. If you need to read it again as you go through the questions, you can click on the Help button.

This poem was written at the time of the second Boer war, but it could be about any wartime situation. What does the title 'The man he killed' suggest about what the poem will be about?

How brave and fierce the narrator is.

As much about the other man as about the narrator of this poem.

About how well trained the army was.

This poem has a very simple rhyme scheme, but a more complicated message.

The lines follow an ABAB pattern, the rhyme skips a line:

met/ inn/ wet/ nipperkin

 

Complete this statement.

We call this an a ____________________ rhyme scheme, as the lines take it in turns to rhyme.

The word "nipperkin" means a drink, so Hardy is saying that if the two men in the poem had met in a pub, they could have enjoyed each other's company and had a good time, but because they met in battle, one had to kill the other.

 

Why would this message have been surprising at the time? Tick three boxes.

because Hardy did not drink alcohol

because people were brought up to think that they were better than foreign enemies

because he is saying that they are equals

because nipperkin is old-fashioned language

because he is showing that war can be meaningless

Back in the time that Hardy was writing (1902), the "infantry" would have been much closer to each other than enemies at war today.

 

Read this student's work and choose the best quotation to fill in the blank:

 

The soldiers were close enough to see and hear their enemies clearly: "_______ to _______". This would probably make them realise that they are only human and quite similar to themselves. This might make them feel sorry for their 'enemy', even though they have to fight each other.

Re-read this stanza from the poem:

 

He thought he'd 'list, perhaps,
Off-hand like--just as I--
Was out of work--had sold his traps--
No other reason why.

 

"list" means to enlist, to sign up for the army.

"sold his traps" means sold his possessions to raise money.

 

Why did both of the men end up on the battlefield? Tick two boxes.

because they were patriotic

because they had no better work or opportunities

because they wanted to be heroes

because they needed the money

Re-read this stanza again:

 

I shot him dead because--
Because he was my foe,
Just so: my foe of course he was;
That's clear enough; although

 

The narrator is explaining why he killed the man. Is he sure of the reasons why?

Yes: because he was his foe: "That's clear enough".

No: he is trying to convince himself but repeats words and hesitates.

Read this student's work and fill in the correct word:

 

This poem would have surprised the reader at the time: because it is told from the "winner's" point of view, we would expect him to be overjoyed with his own bravery and abilities on the battlefield, but he seems confused and almost feels __________ for his victim.

The writer uses a technique called irony in this poem, where he uses humour to shock the reader and say the opposite of what he really means.

 

For example, he says: "Yes; quaint and curious war is!" This suggests that war is a 'funny old business' and that we shouldn't worry too much about it, but the poem as a whole is showing us that we should worry; that it isn't funny to kill another human being at all.

 

What punctuation does Hardy use to suggest humour here?

a speech mark

a comma

an exclamation mark

a question mark

  • Question 1

This poem was written at the time of the second Boer war, but it could be about any wartime situation. What does the title 'The man he killed' suggest about what the poem will be about?

CORRECT ANSWER
As much about the other man as about the narrator of this poem.
EDDIE SAYS
The fact that the title of the poem is about the man who was killed and not the person who did the killing suggests that the poem will focus on him as well.
  • Question 2

This poem has a very simple rhyme scheme, but a more complicated message.

The lines follow an ABAB pattern, the rhyme skips a line:

met/ inn/ wet/ nipperkin

 

Complete this statement.

We call this an a ____________________ rhyme scheme, as the lines take it in turns to rhyme.

CORRECT ANSWER
alternate
EDDIE SAYS
This style of rhyme scheme is called and 'alternate rhyme scheme'.
  • Question 3

The word "nipperkin" means a drink, so Hardy is saying that if the two men in the poem had met in a pub, they could have enjoyed each other's company and had a good time, but because they met in battle, one had to kill the other.

 

Why would this message have been surprising at the time? Tick three boxes.

CORRECT ANSWER
because people were brought up to think that they were better than foreign enemies
because he is saying that they are equals
because he is showing that war can be meaningless
EDDIE SAYS
The message in the poem would have been surprising to readers at the time that it was written because, in those days, people were taught to think that foreign enemies were below them and that they would not have anything in common with them. By stating that the two men would have enjoyed each other's company, he is suggesting that the act of war and killing is meaningless.
  • Question 4

Back in the time that Hardy was writing (1902), the "infantry" would have been much closer to each other than enemies at war today.

 

Read this student's work and choose the best quotation to fill in the blank:

 

The soldiers were close enough to see and hear their enemies clearly: "_______ to _______". This would probably make them realise that they are only human and quite similar to themselves. This might make them feel sorry for their 'enemy', even though they have to fight each other.

CORRECT ANSWER
face to face
face
EDDIE SAYS
The use of the words 'face to face' suggests that the soldiers really were very close to each other, meaning that they would get a better look at their foes and would see that they were men exactly the same as themselves, having to kill each other just because they are at war.
  • Question 5

Re-read this stanza from the poem:

 

He thought he'd 'list, perhaps,
Off-hand like--just as I--
Was out of work--had sold his traps--
No other reason why.

 

"list" means to enlist, to sign up for the army.

"sold his traps" means sold his possessions to raise money.

 

Why did both of the men end up on the battlefield? Tick two boxes.

CORRECT ANSWER
because they had no better work or opportunities
because they needed the money
EDDIE SAYS
The stanza suggests that the two men were only on the battlefield because fighting in the war was the only option to them, as they were both out of work and had no money.
  • Question 6

Re-read this stanza again:

 

I shot him dead because--
Because he was my foe,
Just so: my foe of course he was;
That's clear enough; although

 

The narrator is explaining why he killed the man. Is he sure of the reasons why?

CORRECT ANSWER
No: he is trying to convince himself but repeats words and hesitates.
EDDIE SAYS
It is clear from this stanza that the narrator is trying to convince himself that he has done the right thing. By repeating "he was my foe [...] my foe of course he was" suggests that he is trying to focus on the fact that the soldier was his enemy, and not feel any guilt for killing him.
  • Question 7

Read this student's work and fill in the correct word:

 

This poem would have surprised the reader at the time: because it is told from the "winner's" point of view, we would expect him to be overjoyed with his own bravery and abilities on the battlefield, but he seems confused and almost feels __________ for his victim.

CORRECT ANSWER
sorry
sympathy
EDDIE SAYS
The poem suggests that the narrator feels sympathy for his victim. The fact that they were standing 'face to face' suggests that they were very close together when he shot the victim, and this would have enabled him to see that the victim was a soldier in the same situation as himself.
  • Question 8

The writer uses a technique called irony in this poem, where he uses humour to shock the reader and say the opposite of what he really means.

 

For example, he says: "Yes; quaint and curious war is!" This suggests that war is a 'funny old business' and that we shouldn't worry too much about it, but the poem as a whole is showing us that we should worry; that it isn't funny to kill another human being at all.

 

What punctuation does Hardy use to suggest humour here?

CORRECT ANSWER
an exclamation mark
EDDIE SAYS
The use of the exclamation mark causes the sentence to stand out and suggests to the reader that it is not supposed to be taken seriously, but to shock the reader and to emphasise the casual way in which the soldier in the poem is killed simply "Because he was my foe".
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