Cities and Thrones and Powers

(notes by Donald Mackenzie)


Published with “A Centurion of the Thirtieth” in Puck of Pook’s Hill (1906).

Kipling took the poem as an epigraph for Songs from Books (1912). Weygandt (Reading, 52) suggests affinities of style with Herrick. For the sentiment, one might compare Kipling’s aside in Something of Myself” (106): ‘Every nation, like every individual, walks in a vain show – else it could not live with itself.’

Peter Bellamy’s rendition is here.

Peter Keating
(p. 181) notes that Kipling has considered successive rulers of England, and been keenly aware that empires rise and fall:

England had not always been the centre of a vast empire: it too had once been an imperial colony. Like Conrad’s Marlow in Heart of Darkness, Kipling looked at England and realised that this also has been one of the dark places of the
earth. Nor had England suffe red from having imperial light
shed on its darkness. The Danes had been largely marauders, but the Romans, and later the Normans, carried civilisation in the wake of military conquest. The Romans especially were settlers, improvers, exporting throughout the world their laws, art, and knowledge. Like the English, they were true “white men”. History, however, recorded not only the power and influence of empires, the Roman Empire pre-eminent among them, but also their decline …

Daniel Karlin
(p. 673) notes:

The metre here is even more short-breathed than the one which Kipling
used for his ‘Horatian’ poems (see “The Survival”); its slightly archaic vocabulary marks its affiliation to the verse of the English Renaissance (from Raleigh to Herbert) which influenced Kipling in the same way, though to a lesser extent, as the prose of the Authorized Version (of the Bible).


See also a further note on the poem by Naren Menon. See also our note on verse 4 of “Things and the Man“.



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