The Anvil

Notes on the text

(by Peter Keating)


[Title] The Anvil. The block of iron on which a blacksmith ‘hammers’ formless hot metal into shape. The blacksmith is William the Conqueror, the representative of Norman civilisation: the formless material is England. As applied to human beings, the image is unusually harsh and brutal, and deliberately so. As Fletcher openly acknowledges in the passage from A School History quoted above,and elsewhere in the same chapter, it was at first necessary for the English race to be ‘severely bullied’ in this moulding process.

[Sub-title] William, Duke of Normandy (‘William the Conqueror’) invaded England in 1066. On 14 October of that year, the English army led by King Harold was defeated at the battle of Hastings in Sussex.

[Line 2] from the Severn to the Tyne. Severn and Tyne are the names of rivers. The Severn rises in Wales and flows into southwest England; the Tyne rises near the Scottish border and flows into the North Sea. Kipling uses them as approximate boundaries for the geographical area, from the southwest to the northeast, that is being shaped into one united country. He is also probably making the point that William restricted his territorial ambitions to England and made no attempt to invade Scotland, Wales, or Ireland.

[Line 4] England’s being hammered: For the Sussex Edition, the wording of the refrain, the overall sentence structure, and the number of beats, all remained unchanged, but the line was divided into two, giving each stanza five rather than four lines. This allowed for a slight pause (or, perhaps, an intake of breath ) at the end of line 4, and therefore a stronger final hammer stroke in line 5. The dramatic, chant-like nature of the refrain is thus enhanced. Lines 4/5 now read:

England’s being hammered, hammered,
hammered into line!

The same pattern is then repeated in what, in the Sussex Edition, would become lines 9/10, and lines 14/15.

[Line 7] Little bits of Kingdoms cannot stand against their foes: The striking phrase ‘little bits of kingdoms’ may have been prompted directly by Fletcher.

‘England resisted him bit by bit; its leaders had
a dozen different plans; he had but one plan, and he
drove it through. He was going to make an England
that would resist the next invader as one people.’

[A School History, p. 44]

It is also notable that from this point, the poem is dominated by thoughts of the future unity or ‘oneness’ of the English nation that William set about creating. As throughout the School History, Fletcher and Kipling are warning that in the twentieth century there is still an urgent need for England to be united and prepared for a foreign invasion.


[P. K.]

©Peter Keating 2004 All rights reserved