The Astronomy Of Drummer Hodge

Night Sky 5
Image Credit: Felix Mittermeier

Astronomy is a wide ranging scientific field of study which also has the unusual ability to inspire many aspects of the arts, such as paintings, poems and music. The 11th century Bayeux Tapestry, for instance, famously depicts the appearance of Halley’s Comet in 1066, which was taken as an ill omen by King Harold of England prior to his defeat at the battle of Hastings.

Similarly, astronomy was used to depict the futility and tragedy of war in a poem writen by English poet Thomas Hardy about the Boer war fought between the British and Dutch settlers in South Africa from 1899 and 1902. The poem is one of my favourite and is called “Drummer Hodge,” referring to a young drummer boy who was killed during this war.

Drummer Hodge by Thomas Hardy (1840–1928)

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.

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