Notes on the text
(by Peter Keating)
‘And it came to pass in the morning watch, that the LORD looked forth upon the host of the Egyptians through the pillar of fire and of cloud, and discomfited the host of the Egyptians.’Here in Exodus the ‘pillar of cloud and of fire’ is symbolic of a protective God constantly on hand to help the Israelites escape from their enemies. At Edgehill God has withdrawn, leaving the opposing armies to determine their own destinies.
Only thin smoke without flame[Lines 8-9] sin… red war …sire. The primal sin of one member of a family killing another. See Genesis 4, for the murder of Abel by his brother Cain, especially chapter 10:
From the heaps of couch-grass;
Yet this will go onward the same
Though Dynasties pass.
‘And [the Lord] said, What hast thou done? The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground.’The ‘sin’ here is fratricide; but patricide is also involved, with son against father just as brother is against brother. The primal sin is also against God the Father. In line 8, Kipling must surely be using the archaic word ‘sire’ (line 8) to mean father as well as king. In the succeeding three stanzas Kipling gradually extends the murderous impact of the war on various kinds of family relationships, including women as well as men.
‘The Royalist position, on a steep westward-facing hill, was very strong. Essex sat down below, and looked up at it; he liked what he saw far too little to attempt an upward attack. Rupert, as he looked down, must have felt confident of victory; but, as Essex would not come up to him, he had to go down if he were to fight Essex, and the two armies were finally drawn up without much advantage of ground to either side’ (An Introductory History of England, II, 375).[Line 19] chase. A loosely-organised country hunt.