First published in The Years Between, April 1919. ORG No. 1103.
To recant is to renounce a former belief as erroneous. The poet used to dislike the music-hall artist Lyde and her performances as “O’erblown and over-bold.” But his son, who “cherished all (her) lays”, has lost his life in the War, and the poet now “join(s) the hosts who bow to (her) as Queen of Song”, thanking her for all she did for his son. Kipling’s only son John was “missing, believed killed” in the Battle of Loos on 27 September 1915. This poem, written two years later, may have been part of the grieving process for his loss.
Kipling wrote affectionately about the music-halls and the power of their artistes to move audiences, in "The Village that Voted the Earth was Flat" collected in A Diversity of Creatures (1917). Charles Carrington (p. 351) says:
Since childhood Kipling had been fascinated by the London music-halls – too much fascinated his father thought – and when he returned to London in 1889 he told a friend that he found them more satisfying than the theatre.Andrew Lycett (p.592) quotes a letter from Kipling to a Captain Lewis in December 1913: ' I’ve taken John to divers music-halls, which always make me inclined to weep but J. thinks them “top-hole”.'
The form of the poem
This poem is one of a number in which Kipling imitated the Odes of the Latin poet Horace (Quintus Horatius Flaccus, 65 BC - 8 BC), hence the use of rather antiquated words, and the reference to Rome at the end of verse 6.
Kipling had to study Horace’s poems at school. In Something of Myself (p.33) he says: C--- [W.C.Crofts, his Latin master] taught me to loathe Horace for two years; to forget him for twenty, and then to love him for the rest of my days and through many sleepless nights.
Lyde (two syllables) is named in Horace’s Odes, Book III No 28 (translation by John Conington, 1882):
Neptune's feast-day! what should manIt has been suggested that “Lyde” is just the Cockney pronunciation of “lady”. If “Lyde” was a real person, Lycett notes (p. 651) that: The name of the singer was ambiguous: it could have suggested a Cockney variation on Lloyd – as in the star Marie Lloyd – but it is generally taken to refer to the more establishment figure Harry Lauder, who lost his son in France in 1917.
What boots it ? what good does it do ?
The poet’s heart had grown cold with age but has been touched and warmed again by the fate of his son, killed in the War.
over-bold immodest, rude
vacant days life is empty without his son
on his shield the ancient Greeks used a dead soldier’s shield to carry him off the battle-field.
not meanly his son died bravely
A description of his son’s stock of gramophone records of Lyde’s songs
His son had a photo of Lyde in his dugout in the trenches in France
child John Kipling was only 18 when he died
When he came home on leave, he and his friends loved to go to Lyde’s show.
Rome London, in keeping with the Roman form of the poem
I humble the poet apologises to Lyde for his previous dislike of her performance.
hosts the present audiences
ghosts those like his son who used to come to Lyde’s show but have died in the War.
Gaul the Latin name for France
Thy son – had followed mine Lyde’s son has also been killed.
The night Lyde heard of her son’s death, heroically she concealed her loss and still went on stage and danced (capered) and made a new joke that delighted all the troops in France.
Sleep before noon The poet’s son and Lyde’s both died young.
the Word Lyde uses songs and jokes
To hearten and make whole to encourage and heal her audience
Though vultures rend their soul an echo of the myth of Prometheus, who gave fire to mankind and was punished by being chained to a mountain where an eagle came every day to eat his liver. Kipling likens his gift and his suffering to that of the music-hall artistes who hide the pain and grief of bereavement and continue to perform.
© Philip Holberton 2016 All rights reserved