The poem has a markedly anti-war tone. It points at the fact that the emotions and sentiments involved in wars, nation-building and nation-breaking are irrelevant in the continuing human saga of love, birth and death. The actions of the huge cast of human characters, from Napoleon down to the common soldiers and ordinary people of Wessex are subject to the ‘Immanent Will’. “In Time of The Breaking of Nations” also shows that the creators of wars and dynasties are not free. Here ‘Immanent Will’ is being suggested by the unstoppable march of time.
This is a poem where Hardy denounces the heroics of the war and dynasties against the background of human life’s eternal flow. During Hardy’s lifetime, there were two major wars which moved him much. The Boer War in South Africa and the First World War prompted Hardy to write some of his distinguished war poems. Hardy gave up all kinds of patriotic jingoism. In these poems, he avoids sentimentally and diminishes the prestige of war by placing the events of war in a universal perspective of cosmic dimension. Hardy’s treatment of war was varied and he was extremely versatile in discovering appropriate poetic forms for the expression of his views.
The poem is divided into three stanzas. In the first stanza, we get an idea that common humdrum life continues with all its rhythm. The man tilling the soil with the old horse moves on slowly, clumsily and sleepily. In the second stanza, we get another picture of common life. Couch-grass piled in heaps is set alight and a thin smoke rises without any flame. In spite of the rise and fall of dynasties this sort of human drama goes on. The third stanza portrays a mind with her lover whispering in a very intimate fashion. We are told here that the chronicles of war is forgotten but the human drama of love and passion continues unhindered.
The poem is written in a simple style. Its tone is dispassionate, detached and objective. Hardy has played the role of a distant commentator. Like a still photographer, he has presented some images to us. The readers will form his opinion from these silent but self obvious images. Though his stand against war is clear, he is not sentimental. Rather the poetic temperament is softened with a philosophical detachment. Hardy’s aim is to show the littleness of war and its creators in the background of an agricultural environment. The ultimate effect of the poem is a reasoned and dispassionate sense.