Hymn before Action

(notes edited by John McGivering)


First published in the The Echo, March 1896, with the tile “A Little Sermon”, the first, fourth and sixth verses only. ORG No. 663.

Collected in full as “Hymn before Action” in:

  • The Seven Seas (1896)
  • Inclusive Verse (1919)
  • Definitive Verse (1940)
  • Sussex Edition Vol. 33 p. 80
  • Burwash Edition Vol. 26
  • Wordsworth Edition (2001)
  • Cambridge Edition (2013 Ed. Pinney) p. 383

The poem

The angry dirge-like “Hymn Before Action” anticipated the better-known “Recessional” written the following year, in appealing to an old-fashioned God, the special deity of the British Empire. This poem was based on the Church of England hymn The Church’s One Foundation” which was composed in reply to a bishop who had doubts as to the authenticity of the Holy Bible.

ORG notes (p. 5360) that Kipling was moved to write the poem by the sending of a cable of support from the Kaiser of Germany to the government of the Transvaal, the principal Boer Republic of southern Africa, after the repulse of the Jameson Raid of January 1896. (See our notes on “A Burgher of the Free State”.

See also our notes on “Recessional, and “Kipling and Music” by Brian Mattinson.

The words are also used in The Armed Man, a Mass for Peace by Sir Karl Jenkins, which was commissioned by the Royal Armouries for the Millenium celebrations to celebrate their move to Leeds in the year 2000, dedicated to survivors of the Kosovo crisis (1998/99). This is an anti-war poem, like Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem.

Notes on the Text

[Verse 1]

harness in this context armour and other war-like equipment.

Jehovah God

[Verse 2]

froward obstinate, difficult to deal with

[Verse 4]

Cloke an alternative spelling of ‘cloak’ a garment, or meaning ‘to cover’. The word is used to great effect in “Proofs of Holy Writ”, Kipling’s last tale. ‘For, behold, darkness clokes the earth…’

[Verse 5]

Mary The Virgin Mary, Mother of Jesus, the Madonna.

[Verse 6]

vanguard the leading party of troops that moves ahead of the main body.

[J McG]

©John McGivering 2017 All rights reserved