"The King's Task"

Traffics and Discoveries

(notes by
John McGivering)

the poem, original version
the poem - enlarged version
[October 3 2007]

Publication history

The first eighteen lines were published in Traffics and Discoveries (1904), in association with the story "The Comprehension of Private Copper", and later as “The Saxon Foundations of England “ in Fletcher’s A School History of England (1911).

The poem was then amended and expanded as “The King’s Task” to a total of 76 lines, in Inclusive Verse, Songs from Books, Definitive Verse, the Burwash Edition page 170, Volume 34, and The Works of Rudyard Kipling (Wordsworth Poetry Library, 1994) The enlarged version is dated 1902 in Definitive Verse, (published in 1940) the year after King Edward VII (1841-1910) came to the throne on the death of his mother, Queen Victoria, even though the poem first appeared in Traffics and Discoveries in 1904.

Notes on
the text

The original 18 lines

[Line 1] the sack of the city Rome was captured and looted by the barbarians in 410.

[Line 2] Saint Wilfred see notes to “The Conversion of St. Wilfred” (Rewards and Fairies)

[Line 8]Andred also 'Andrasta' or 'Adraste', a warrior goddess

[Line 9] the Witan the Anglo-Saxon assembly, a forerunner of Parliament.

[Line 9<] flaying the removal of skin from the body, a dreadful torture if done to the living.

[Line 10] Folkland, common types of landholding.

[Line 10] pannage the right of pasturing swine on the floor of the forest.

[Line 11] Statutes of tun etc laws governing the sale of goods in a market.

[Line 12] Bramber a pretty village on the River Adur above Shoreham, Sussex, once a thriving port known as Portus Adurni, fortified by the Anglo-Saxons and the Normans

[Line 12] keel in this context an open boat.

[Line 13] Druids a Celtic order of priests

[Line 15] Legions in this context Roman armies.

[Line 18] headlands in this context unploughed land at the ends of the field.

Notes on
the text

The enlarged version

[Line 5] Stubborn all were his people from cottar to overlord a cottar was a man who occupied a cottage and land from his lord in return for work. See the verse “Norman and Saxon"

[Line 10] loppage the right of freemen to cut branches from the lord’s trees with an axe as high as they could reach.

[Line 19]Hamtun now the port of Southampton in Hampshire.

[Line 19] Bosenham now Bosham, (pronounced 'bozzum') near Chichester

[Line 20] Use not traced

[Line 20] Lewes the county town of East Sussex

[Line 21] Witan the Anglo-Saxon Assembly, the forerunner of Parliament

[Line 22]> Selsea a seaside village near Chichester; scene of the verse "Eddi's Service"

[Line 22] Cymen’s Ore a Saxon landing-place on the coast of Sussex or Hampshire, the exact whereabouts of which is under investigation by archaeologists.

[Line 25] beechmast the nut of the beech tree (Fagus) used as food for pigs.

[Line 25] Pannage the right of pasturing swine on the floor of the forest.

[Line 25] Beltane the ancient Celtic Mayday celebrations with bonfires,

[Line 28] Rugnor not traced

[Line 29] Gilling not traced

[Line 29] Basing an Anglo-Saxon settlement in Hampshire

[Line 29] Alresford a settlement in Hampshire, the neighbouring county, north-east of Winchester.

[Line 40] bucklers small round shields.

[Line 47] Warlocks sorcerers.

[Line 64] ague 'Intermittent Fever' – it also appears as the Bailiff of the Marshes in “Dymchurch Flit” (Puck of Pook's Hill). See Dr. Gillian Sheehan’s Notes.

[Line 64] Oxeney a small village near Lincoln.

[Line 67] levies in this context men called up for military service.

[Line 68] thane one holding land from the king or nobleman in return for military service.

[Line 70] They thumb and mock and belittle… see “Stellenbosch” and other South African verses.

[Line 71] onward the gilded staff a play on words, here mocking the staff officers who mismanaged affairs in the Boer war. See “The Song of the Old Guard”, “The Dykes”, “Rimmon”, “The City of Brass”, and other verse in the same vein, pleading that army and people will prepare for modern war.

[J. McG.]

©John McGivering 2007 All rights reserved