“Sussex”

(1902)

(Notes by Mary Hamer)


the poem
[January 9 2010]


Publication history

Apparently written during the second half of 1902, around the time when the Kiplings finally bought and took possession of Bateman’s, the house they would live in together until his death. Collected in I.V. 1919, and in D.V. 1940, the Sussex Edition vol. 33, and the Burwash Edition vol. 26. Reprinted in A Petworth Posie, Beatrice V. Leconfield, 1918, and A Chorus of Songs from the Verse of Kipling, 1925.

Possibly most widely circulated in the form of its musical setting as a song, with the chorus ‘Sussex by the sea.’

Background

On 14 August 1900 the Kiplings, who were looking for their first permanent home in England, came on Bateman’s, the Jacobean house near Burwash in Sussex now owned by the National Trust. Rudyard and Carrie fell in love with it immediately, feeling it was a house that had never known any shadow or horror, to which they were both highly sensitive and naturally averse. After some delays they were able to buy Bateman’s with its estate of about 30 acres in June 1902 for the sum of £9,300. From that time on Sussex became the background for many of his stories and poems. Settling on this home may well have prompted the release of poetic energy in 1902, a release that led Kipling to decide on making a new collection of his poems to be published under the title of The Five Nations.

Sussex in Kipling’s life

In 1882, when he was leaving for India, Rudyard’s last few days in England had been spent in Sussex, at the country retreat of the Burne-Joneses, North End House, Rottingdean; fifteen years later his son John was born in that same house on 17 August 1897. Though “Sussex” was written in 1902 during the first months of living in Bateman’s it reflects the pleasure of confirming a happy association with the county itself. Michael Smith writes:

To my mind the germ of the poem came while he was living in Rottingdean, because he writes in Something of Myself (p. 136): 'Those Downs moved me to write some verses called "Sussex"'. It was the South Downs, over which he tramped with family and friends most happily, and he really got to know the countryside around whilst seeking a new home in his car.
See also the article by Michael Smith in this guide on “Kipling’s Sussex”.

The poem speaks of intention, no less than inclination, the wish, articulated in the opening stanza and repeated in the penultimate one, to create a deep connection with this chosen place. This will be achieved by means of profound and loving attention, that is, by work. Kipling took his stewardship of ‘our fields’ seriously, becoming a keen reader of the farming press and seeking advice of his friend Rider Haggard, a recognised expert in management of the countryside

Contrast with "The Second Voyage”

It is interesting to note the contrast with the grim trinity, which was invoked in “The Second Voyage”, ‘Custom, Reverence and Fear’. Escaping their vigilance, Love or the hope of reconstituting it now appears to hold sway. ’Memory, Use and Love’ will bring about or rather allow to become manifest a bond that is deeper than any rational connection.


Notes on the text

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


[Stanza 1] And see that it is good cf Genesis I. 31. ‘And God saw every thing that He had made, and, behold, it was very good.’

[Stanza 2] Baltic referring to the almost landlocked sea in northern Europe and the countries, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia around its shores.

Levuka’s trade the steady wind that sweeps the Fiji islands. Until 1882 Levuka, set on one of the small islands, was the capital of the archipelago.

The lot has fallen to me Cf Psalms 16,7 (Prayer-Book version);’the lot has fallen to me in a fair ground: yea, I have a goodly heritage.’

[Stanza 3] The Weald the Sussex Weald lies between the South and North Downs, which themselves run roughly parallel to the south coast of England. Until the growth of the iron industry the Weald was entirely covered with forest. (See the article by Michael Smith on “Kipling’s Sussex”.

[Stanza 4] The barrow and the camp 'barrows' are prehistoric funeral mounds of which many have been found in Sussex; There are also many ancient British and Roman camps.

[Stanza 6] dewpond reservoirs on the Downs. They ‘never fail’ because they are not fed by springs but collect moisture from the atmosphere, using the principles of evaporation and condensation. They were constructed by first lining an excavation with straw, then covering that with a layer of clay mixed with water. The clay becomes chilled by evaporation from its surface during the day, so that at night moisture condenses onto it from the air, which is comparatively warmer. The drier the weather, the fuller the pond becomes, as evaporation during the day is exceeded by the condensation taking place at night.

[Stanza 7] little lost Down churches there is for example a tiny church about sixteen feet square at Lullington under Windover, which is not visible from the road.

the heathen kingdom Wilfrid found shipwrecked on the Sussex coast in 669, Wilfrid, later Archbishop of York and now known as Saint Wilfrid, was met with great hostility from the non-Christian peoples there. They repelled him and almost killed him. (See "The Conversion of St Wilfrid" in Rewards and Fairies.

The freedom Kipling celebrates here in ‘strong unhampered days’ seems to be associated with a release from the over-riding authority of Christianity. As a man with ‘two sides to his head’, he rejoices in finding a place where the ‘heathen’ part of himself, can find its counterpart.

[Stanza 9] Scarp Michael Smith writes: 'The Scarp face is the steep slope of an escarpment, the gentle slope being called the Dip Slope. On the South Downs it generally faces north, but of course the reverse is true for the North Downs. Oddly enough in the South Downs the scarp recurves at Beachy Head and there actually points south!'

Long Man of Wilmington a giant figure 240 feet long, cut in the turf to reveal the chalk, on Windover Hill.

Fickle tide ... dry and sea-forgotten walls ... pride over the centuries the sea has receded more than a mile from the towns of Winchelsea and Rye, partly through human reclamation and partly due to long-shore-drift. In the twelfth century they were among the seven leading ports on the south coast.

[Stanza 10] shaws thickets or groves on a steep hillside.

ghylls steep-sided clefts in hillsides, forming the course of a stream

begilded dolphin the steeple of Piddinghoe village church near Newhaven is crested with a weathervane which is actually in the form of a sea trout. Kipling either misidentified it as a dolphin, or used poetic license

Sussex steers a breed of large cattle deep reddish-brown in colour.

[Stanza 11] Memory Use and Love see note above on Background. Contrast with “The Second Voyage”.


[M.H.]

©Mary Hamer 2008 All rights reserved