Billy Bragg: ‘The Man He Killed’

This is an audio recording of Billy Bragg singing his adaptation of a poem by Thomas Hardy, ‘The Man He Killed’, at the Left Field Stage at the recent Glastonbury Festival. I reproduce the original poem below so that you can see the little changes Billy has made to fit the poem to the tune he chose, which is the old folk song ‘The Snow it Melts the Soonest’.

Billy and the Left Field performers were doing songs like this to honour the 100th anniversary of the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand on June 28th 1914, the event that proved to be the catalyst for the start of the Great War.

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!


            “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,
            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.”
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