This poem follows "With the Night Mail" in Actions and Reactions.
It is collected in:
The poem echoes the first three chapters of the "Book of Genesis", the first book in the Old Testament. Ann Weygandt notes (pp.120-121) that it reflects the early influence on Kipling of the pre-Raphaelite poets, notably Rossetti. She points out (p. 177) that the phrase 'Adam lay ybounden' is to be found in Ancient English Carols edited by Edith Rickert (Chatto and Windus, 1925).
Joyce Tompkins in her chapter on 'Man and the Abyss', comments (p. 193):
'The Four Angels', attached to 'With the Night Mail', presents Adam's sin in Eden as laziness, the refusal, even when the tutelary angels of the elements suggest it, to exploit his circumstances. Therefore the Angel of the Fire sets the flame of desire in his heart. The desire is for ever unattainable, but outside Eden-Wall it drives him to the mastery of the elements. It is thus through 'black disaster' that he fulfils his nature.John Lee in KJ 335 writes of the relationship between this poem and "With the Night Mail":
"The Four Angels" seems both to summarize and amplify. It places "With the Night Mail" as part of the Fall narrative, and at the same time adds resonance to the function of fire within the story. The final stanza makes it clear that Adam, for all his mastery of the four elements, has 'never reached his heart's desire' and never will, for 'The Apple Tree's cut down!' This Adam is caught in an endless and restless pursuit of certain, god-like knowledge, and is driven to that pursuit of mastery by a mysterious fire in his breast. This has led him to master the Earth, with ploughs, the Sea, with ships, and finally, as we have seen in this story, the Air, with dirigibles.
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