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The Man He Killed. By Thomas Hardy. Background Information. He was born on the 2 nd June 1840. He could read before he went to school. He Published his first book at the age of 25.

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the man he killed

The Man He Killed

By Thomas Hardy


Background Information

He was born on the 2nd June 1840.

He could read before he went to school.

He Published his first book at the age of 25.

Thomas Hardy was incredibly pessimistic about society. He was very disgruntled about humanity’s place in the scheme of all things. He was also a realist and philosopher.

In 1901, Hardy expressed the notion that "non-rationality seems. . .to be the (guiding) principle of the Universe. Which shows his pessimistic views on life.

Throughout his career he was a powerful model of artistic unity and complexity.


Hardy’s Influences and Ideas

Hardy’s writing explores mainly ideas of nature, morality and knowledge. Morality is the only idea out of these that is expressed in, “The Man He Killed.” This is not a typical Thomas Hardy poem.

He stated that he did not have a personal philosophy. Nowadays some people believe that his writing and views were influenced by Nietzche, a nineteenth century philosopher. Nietzche studies human drives which is present in this poem.

Hardy’s most profound influence was another nineteenth century philosopher called Schopenhauer. He studied the will within humans which is also present in this poem but in the opposite sense. He does not have the will to kill him but has to anyway.

Had he and Ibut met (A)

By someold ancient inn, (B)

We should have set us down to wet (A) 

Right many a nipperkin! (B)


The word BUT is a clue to the reader that this is an alternate situation: what could have happened, rather than what actually did, as does the word HAD, and SHOULD.

Introduces the main two characters

Makes the tone seem general, almost flippant

‘old’ and ‘ancient’ have, when coupled with the ‘jolly’ tone, connotations of cosiness

The rhyming pattern ABAB gives it a jolly tone, enhanced by the use of the exclamation mark.

This verse is the introduction to the poem. It sets the scene. The main event- the killing- has already taken place and the poet is reflecting on the event.. Which allows him to give the readers a sense of place before he begins- almost like a flash back.


Nipperkin: a half empty vessel in this case probably used to contain alcohol.



The rhyming pattern in the same as the pattern in the first one, and gives the poem an innocent feel. This is also coupled with the phrase ‘face to face’, a well known phrase gives it the simplicity of a nursery rhyme.

It’s in first person so you can identify with him, and it’s easy for him to say how he feels

But ranged as infantry, (C)

And staring face to face, (D)I shot athimandheat me, (C) And killed him in his place. (D)

This whole line is very simple. It has a resigned tone about it, as if he only shot him because he was going to shoot him and vice versa- as shown by the almost sing-song rhythm of this line, which also makes it seem almost flippant, as with the first verse

He doesn't say anything about how the man looked, whether he was tall or short, he just refers to him as he. In his death, the man is still a stranger to him. He doesn’t even give detail about his face- and they were staring face to face.

The main action in the poem takes place here. This is the event that the whole poem is about and it is surprisingly simple. In this stanza, he kills a man, a stranger.



He seems to falter here. He hesitates, and repeats a word, for the first time indicating that he feels at least some need to try to justify it to himself.

An internal ryhme, although the hyphen makes it seem like two separate lines, again indicating that he is faltering, saying the words as they come to him

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

This is the first time he describes the man in any way.

Use of enjambment, adding to the affect of natural speech.

This is him justifying what he did. He is telling the audience how he knows nothing about him, that he was a stranger- the only clear fact he knows is that he was his ‘foe’.



The hyphens add again to the effect of natural speech. They increase in number with ach stanza, as if he’s getting more and more choked up and emotional.

Past Tense

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

Here he notices they were the same.

This adds more information to the stanza before, that he only killed because ha had to, and to save his own life

Abbreviation for enlist. The whole poem is in the dialect the soldier would speak in.

The word offhand makes it seem again like a casual thing he did, joining up.

This stanza is simply him musing aloud. He is adding information and wondering about the other man’s life and, ‘shock, horror’ is finding that he was probably quite similar to him



Yes, makes it seem that he is talking to somebody else

Same rhyming pattern as the rest of the poem

Half-a-crown, indication of time period

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."

He again has a very casual town, the hyphens have disappeared and he seems to have composed himself again. It seems to us as if he doesn't see it as a sad event, just one that says a lot about how pointless war is

Second Person

Conclusion Paragraph.