(notes by Geoffrey Annis
and John Radcliffe)
...the broad-minded inclusiveness of "The Sons of Martha" did not extend to Liberal politicians, or - as the true nature of Liberal social reforms became clearer - to many of the working class men who had voted them into power. "The City of Brass", Morning Post 28 June 1909, was written during the long acrimonious debate on Lloyd George's proposals to increase income tax, and to introduce a new land tax in his "people's budget", though as the poem makes plain, it was the apparently unstoppable process of reform and the increasingly vocal demands of an organised working-class movement, rather than the budget itself, that provoked Kipling's fury.Kipling had already made similar prophetic warnings of impending disaster in two poems of 1902, “The Dykes” and “The Islanders” .
Now, "the multitude" is denounced along with the Liberal and Labour "panders" who arouse, and surrender to, its "lust". Literally drunk, and also metaphorically drunk on the promised power that democracy will bring, the reeling crowd joyfully assist their leaders to destroy the "walls that their fathers had made them", encourage the perversion of justice, call on "the ruled to rebel", and fling away the "imperial gains of the age". All is done in the name of "the State", but that, Kipling warns, in a bitter reference to the war to come, will not save them, for "an host had prepared their destruction, but still they denied it".
There could be no stronger indication of just how far Kipling was out of touch with the reformist spirit of the age than "The City of Brass" which includes, in its damning comprehensive sweep, many of the very people whose spokesman he had previously been. He seems never to have felt any repentance for what many of his readers must have regarded as a betrayal. Indeed, some years later he would proudly instance "The City of Brass" as a justification of his prophetic gifts. But he never wrote another poem in quite th same vein.
These are the dykes our father left, but we would not look to the same.[Verse 6]
Time and again were we warned of the dykes, time and again we delayed:
If thou knowest not the City of Brass, rub the head of the horseman and he will turn and then will stop, and in whatsoever direction he stoppeth, thither proceed.[Line 11] tares weeds.