“The Return”

(1903)

(Notes by Mary Hamer)


the poem
[January 19 2008]


Publication history

One of the suite of sixteen ‘Service Songs’ which close The Five Nations. This may have been written specifically for The Five Nations but see Background note to “M.I.”. Collected in Sussex Edition vol. 33 and the Burwash Edition, vol. 26. Reprinted in Remember Louvain! A Little Book of Liberty and War, 1914.

Background

It is possible that Kipling was already working on this in January 1901, see letter to Moberly Bell. [Letters Vol 3, Ed. Pinney.]


Notes on the text

(by Mary Hamer drawing on various sources, in particular
Ralph Durand, “A Handbook to the Poetry of Rudyard Kipling" 1914.)


[Title] When it was collected for the Sussex Edition Kipling added the subscript '(All Arms)' a change which insists that for all the men returning from the Anglo-Boer War it had been a seasoning and maturing experience, challenging them in their view of the world, not least in their view of Britain and what it stood for. He also added a note to explain that ’Thamesfontein’ meant London.

[Stanza 1] ‘Ackneystadt Hackney, a poor district in the east end of London. The very coinage emphasises the speaker’s intelligence and wit.

[Stanza 2] Putty brass and paint just made for show like the scenery in a theatre. The speaker has seen behind the shams but still cherishes a dream of England different from the side the war has taught him to see. The italics employed throughout the quatrain are set in deliberate contrast with the final emphatic: ‘But she ain’t’, a device which indicates a continuing tension in the speaker.

[Stanza 5] Struck off their likeness taken, as in a lightning sketch.

[Stanza 6] Legs tied down for burial.

[Stanza 8] Gawd ,’oo knows all I cannot say ... Thamesfontein the speaker is aware that his new authority and independence of mind may be a danger to him and must be concealed when he is back in London. Renaming London as ‘Thamesfontein’ plays on the name of the Boer town ‘Bloemfontein’, while suggesting that London too has been transformed by the experieince of South Africa.


[M.H.]

©Mary Hamer 2008 All rights reserved