This poem was first published in April 1919 as a heading to The Years Between, entitled "Dedication. To the Seven Watchmen". Andrew Lycett (p. 488) describes it as 'often overlooked ... a summation of the war-related verses'.
It is collected as "Seven Watchmen" in:
Andrew Lycett (p. 488) notes Kipling’s belief that:
Man should...reject the temporal world - the seven watchmen with their visions of the glory and the power - to listen to his inner voice.Ann Parry (pp. 198 and 112) stresses that:
He was warning against a trust in revelation from above by a faith in leaders who asked people to believe that willing a thing to be so would be enough to make it prevail. .. and the inability of politicians to offer any guidance to humanity.Background
In the year after the Great War Kipling was addressing those in authority who were negotiating the Treaty of Versailles with Germany, and, in particular the idealism which had earlier been expressed in President Woodrow Wilson’s peace-without-victory 'Fourteen Points’ speech to the United States Congress on 8 January 1918. This had been an attempt to persuade Germany to surrender. Amongst its proposals had been: equality of trade; agreements based on diplomacy; open covenants of peace, freedom of navigation of the seas, and adjustment of colonial claims in the interests of the people concerned. Kipling, deeply hostile to Germany, believed that the political leaders were ignoring Europe’s past history and endangering its future.
Within this collection were many poems which expressed his anger and sadness about bad decisions by leaders he saw as dangerously misguided or corrupt. It included "Gehazi", his 'hate poem' of 1913 against the Marconi scandal, which he had been unable to publish earlier, for fear - on the part of editors and and newspaper proprietors - of libel writs.
The Years Between
Peter Keating (pp. 214-5) writes:
As with his earlier volumes of poetry, Kipling used the publication of The Years Between in April 1919 to record a distinct phase of his career. Here, he gathered together not only the wartime poems, some of which were being published for the first time, but also pre-war polemical works such as "The City of Brass", "The Female of the Species", "The Covenant", and "Ulster".
[Title] Dedication to the Seven Watchmen
'For a man’s mind is sometime wont to tell him more than seven watchmen that sit above in an high tower.'The title and the whole theme of the poem are taken from Ecclesiasticus Chapter 37,14 (in the Apocrypha). The Book of the All-Virtuous Wisdom of Yeshua ben Sira, commonly called the Wisdom of Sirach and also known as the Book of Ecclesiasticus or Ben Sira, is a work of ethical teachings, from approximately 200 to 175 BCE, written by the Jewish scribe Ben Sira of Jerusalem. It was clearly known, directly or indirectly, to Kipling.
Sharad Keskar points out that the number seven is not a haphazard choice:
It would naturally occur to be significant to anyone steeped in the Judaeo-Christian tradition. Not only was the seventh day honoured by the Jews, but the seventh year; and every forty-ninth (seven times seven) was a jubilee.
[line 3] the Man Mankind (including Womankind!)
[lines 3 & 4] the Glory and the Power … the Kingdom an allusion to the Lord’s Prayer:
' For Thine is the Kingdom, the Power and the Glory.' (Matthew 6.13)See also Matthew 4,8-9:
'Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them;'[line 5] All things on Earth your will shall win you You can get anything in the world just by wishing for it. Not a sentiment that Kipling ever believed in.
[line seven] But the Kingdom the poem’s central message is that one needs to trust ones own judgements and listen to one's own inner voice.
[line 10] the bitter years before the poem was written just after the end of WW 1 – bitter years indeed for Kipling who lost his only son John in 1915, and for millions of others as he well knew from his work on the Imperial War Graves Commission.
[line 11] over-sweetened hour the hour of victory which will also bring problems if there is 'trust in revelation from above.' (See Parry p. 111)
[lines 12 & 13] These last two lines are almost a direct quotation from the biblical verse which inspired the poem. See Title above.
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