First, explain in simple contemporary language what is going on in each set of lines (or stanza)—write as if this were being said today in a local club or bar. In other words, change the language here from that of late 19th century England to that of a club in your city or region today.
Then explain about the narrator’s (the speaker’s in the poem–not Thomas Hardy’s) argument about why he killed the man. Then, based on his language and delivery, explain his argument–whether or not he feels he did the right thing when he killed the man. Finally, explain the narrator’s attitude (or feelings) toward war itself.
In your essay be specific. Use “proof” from the poem to show your argument or points. This proof will be specific statements the narrator makes.
“The Man He Killed” by Thomas Hardy
“Had he and I but met
By some old ancient inn,
We should have sat us down to wet
Right many a nipperkin! [a half pint of beer]
“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, [list is slang for enlist]
Off-hand like — just as I —
Was out of work — had sold his traps — [trappings—his clothes, tools, belongings]
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.” [English coin, like saying a few bucks]