A British-Roman Song

(notes by Philip Holberton)


Published with “A Centurion of the Thirtieth” in Puck of Pook’s Hill (1906). For the sentiment one might compare “The Roman Centurion’s Song” in A School History of England (1911) on which Kipling collaborated with C. R. L. Fletcher. [D. M.]

Notes on the text

The date in the heading – A.D. 406 – is significant.. It is the year the Roman legions were withdrawn and Britain was left on her own to face the threat of Anglo-Saxon invasion. Though spoken by a Roman serving in Britain, there are obvious references to the situation in England 1500 years later.

[Verse 3] The speaker prays that Rome may send forth a brood unshakeable – like those Kipling had seen sent out from England to serve in India twenty years before. For example, Tallantyre (“The Head of the District” in Life’s Handicap) or John Chinn (“The Tomb of His Ancestors” in The Day’s Work).

[Verse 4] In line 3 ‘the Empire’ must refer to the current British Empire as well as to the Roman one.

[Verse 5] The poet calls on those at the centre of the Empire to guard The Imperial Fire. At the time he wrote “Puck of Pook’s Hill”, Kipling saw Britain as doubly threatened. One threat was her apparent inability to address herself socially, imperially, culturally and technologically to the future, and the other the new radical menace from the left, to be labelled for convenience ‘socialisim’. ( See Angus Wilson, pp. 310-11).


©Philip Holberton 2020 All rights reserved