Poems of Empire




Tales of Empire
A reading list

[August 17th 2019]

The poems are listed in order of publication.

Title Year Theme
Ave Imperatrix 1882 The teenage Kipling's tribute to Queen Victoria, after she escaped an assassination attempt.
The Battle of Assaye 1882 A rousing account, written when Kipling was sixteen, of Assaye in 1803, one of the battles which extended British power across the sub-continent
A Vision of India 1884 A grim account of life as one of the ICS officers who governed British India, overshadowed by the ever present danger of death from disease or drink or overwork
Arithmetic on the Frontier 1886 Frontier perils for a young officer, "Two thousand pounds of education Drops to a ten-rupee jezail"
The Masque of Plenty
1888 An attack on a Government Commission on the conditions of the Indian peasantry, which found no cause for concern, despite drought and famine. The Pax Britannica had done nothing for the ordinary Indian.
One Viceroy resigns
1888 The sombre thoughts of a disillusioned Viceroy of India, handing over to his successor.
The Ballad of East and West 1889 there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth, When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth
Gunga Din 1890 'You're a better man than I am, Gunga Din'
Pagett, M.P.
1890 An opinionated and ignorant visiting Liberal MP finds conditions in India punishing. Representative democracy is unlikely to benefit the Indian people.
The English Flag 1891 The street-bred people of England must remember that the empire had been won at a price. The overseas peoples are calling for the English to go forth and do their bit.
The Long Trail 1891 The joy of travel with a devoted companion
"Now it is not good..."
1892 There is a deep clash of cultures between white Christian Europeans and native brown-skinned peoples
The Voortrekker 1892 A celebration of the pioneer explorer, adventuring out into new lands, blazing his trail, while behind him new towns are a-building, and new industries springing up within the Empire.
The Song of the Cities 1893 A celebration of the great cities of the Empire, the language and trade links between Britain and its overseas territories dependent upon historic control of the oceans.
A Song of the English 1893 The English are the Chosen People under the Lord, so long as they obey the Law
The Mother Lodge
1894 A spirit of universal brotherhood in a country riven by caste and race. The Masonic Lodge was neutral territory, where Indians and English met as equals
The Native-Born
1895 Rousing verses which hail the common heritage and purpose of the English-speaking peoples
Hymn before Action
1896 Trouble with the Boers and the Kaiser takes their side. A call to action
Recessional 1897 If Britain, with her world wide dominance of the seas, becomes drunk with power, and forgets the Law, she will fall
Our Lady of the Snows 1897 A celebration of Canada as a close member of the Imperial family.
Pharaoh and the Sergeant 1897 A British Sergeant trains Egyptians, and turns them into soldiers by old-fashioned methods
The Explorer 1898 The pioneer presses on into unknown territory, driven by an unearthly power
The Houses 1898 An assertion of the value of the mutual ties between the Dominions of the British Empire
Kitchener's School 1898 After the war, Kitchener had established a school in Khartoum. It will be good for the Sudanese
A Song of the White Men 1899 The mission of the 'White Men' is to go forth and right wrongs and ensure freedom. An assertion of the civilising imperial role of the British, and the other peoples of British stock, and its benefits to the world.
The White Man's Burden 1899 An appeal to the United States to take up an imperial role in the Philippines.
The Lesson
1901 The British had been ill prepared for the South African War; their failures had taught them a necessary lesson
The Islanders 1902 A furious attack on the wealthy land-owning classes who ignore the need to protect their country from attack. Flanneled fools and muddied oafs
Dedication (The Five Nations) 1903 The nations of the Empire must be ready to face the perils of the impending threat from Germany. It must not be ignored
Piet 1903 The courage and endurance of the Boers, their marksmanship and their scouting, had provoked wide admiration in their opponments
South Africa (1903) 1903 After the war, a possessive and affectionate account of South Africa, as a lovely faithless woman
The Pro-Consuls
1905 Kipling's friend Alfred Milner had laboured to great purpose in the reconstruction of South Africa after the War
The Rhodes Memorial, Table Mountain 1905 A tribute to Rhodes, the great Empire builder, much admired by Kipling for his vision and determination
Cities and Thrones and Powers 1906 We like to believe that our civilisation will endure, but across the centuries, it is no more enduring than the daffodills
A Pict Song
1906 The Picts are a small subject people, who deeply resent the authority of their conquerors, and seek to harm them in small ways
Sir Richard's Song 1906 A celebration of Englishness, which for Kipling was a fusion between Norman and Saxon traditions
South Africa (1906) 1906 The Liberal government in Britain in 1906 had given responsible government in South Africa to the Boer Republics, a decision deeply opposed by Kipling.
The American Rebellion 1911 Before the American War of Independence, anger with the rebels. After it, a tribute to the soldiers of both sides
Big Steamers 1911 Without command of the seas, which ensures safety for cargos from around the world, we would starve
Jobson's Amen 1914 There is more to the world than England
We and They 1926 We should learn to respect foreigners, who may be just as doubtful of us as we are of them