2"Had he and I but met By some old ancient inn, We should have sat us down to wet Right many a nipperkin! "But ranged as infantry, And staring face to face, I shot at him and 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."
3Glossary(line 4) nipperkin: a small drink, or the container of that drink (certainly less than a half pint).(line 13) list: enlist, i.e. volunteer to join the army.(line 15) traps: things, stuff (a short form of trappings).
4So what happens?A soldier reflects on the man he has killed in battle. If they had met in some other context, such as an inn, they would have sat down and drank together.But… lined up face to face as enemy soldiers, they shot at one another, and the speaker killed the other man as he stood in line.
5Lines 1-4The poem is being set up; the action in the poem has already taken place and the narrator of the poem is ruminating on this action.This is a technique that in contemporary literature would be considered a flashback. He imagines himself near "some old ancient inn," not a specific inn, but a cozy imaginary place. The diction of the poem (particularly "right many a nipperkin") suggests that the speaker is not a high brow sort, but a common bloke and this diction is important in establishing the persona of the narrator — an educated philospher he is not.
6Line 12The "although" in this line serves as the pivot point for the following lines, in which the speaker deliberates his justification.
7StructureA simple, formal structure of five short stanzas rhyming ABAB. The last two stanzas take up the original idea of the men being equal and potential friends. Stanzas two and three set out the qualifying circumstances that change everything for the men’s fate: they are soldiers in opposing armies and therefore enemies
8StyleHardy imitates the speech rhythms of an ordinary working class man in the process of reflecting on the tragic circumstances that have made him kill someone very like himself. The quotation marks within which the poem is placed remind us that this the direct address of a man possibly engaged in conversation with a friend after the war.
9“I shot him dead because - / Because he was my foe” (lines 9-10) “- just as I - / Was out of work” (lines 14-15) capture his doubtful, faltering attempt to rationalise what happened. There are colloquialisms such as “Off hand like” (line 14) which provide an earthy realism along with the rough sounding metre.
10Links Sense of Tragedy within the form of personal anecdote: November Attitude to Death: Education for LeisureIntention to Kill: The Laboratory