The Peace of Dives

(Notes edited by Mary Hamer. We are grateful for some additional references from Daniel Hadas)

Publication history

Apparently written towards the close of the surge of work which began in the latter part of 1902 and culminated in the 1903 publication of The Five Nations., in which it was published. Collected in I.V. 1919, D.V. 1940, the Sussex Edition vol. 33, and the Burwash Edition, vol. 26.


His experience in South Africa had convinced Kipling of the need for reform of the army in readiness for the war to come, one that he saw Germany was already preparing to wage against England. He had also learned to align himself with the perspective of financiers like Cecil Rhodes, Abe Bailey and Alfred Beit. Through this poem, he advances the argument that it is international trade, including the sale of arms, which alone can guarantee peace.

Turning his back on abstract statement, however, he chooses literary means, harnessing the vigour of the ballad and the old Morality play. Borrowing both cast and location from the Old Testament and working within the mindset of Christian tradition – even perhaps casting a playful glance at the Milton of Paradise Lost – Kipling creates a new myth. If it were one of his stories for children this poem might be called “How the International Financier Made the First Peace”.

Daniel Hadas notes:  ‘This poem also echoes the opening of the Book of Job: Satan is set a challenge to disturb the work of a servant of God. Linguistic echoes’  [D.H.]


Notes on the Text

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


Dives: taken from the Vulgate, i.e. the Latin translation of the Bible, where it is not a proper name but means ‘a rich man.’ In the original parable this rich man is in hell, pleading for water. See Luke 16,19-31.

[Stanza 1]

The Word almost a pun, meaning ‘an order’ but also recalling the phrase which opens the gospel of St John: ‘In the beginning, was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God’.

housen:  archaic plural of “house”. The most recent instance recorded by OED is from 1950, in Norfolk dialect. Kipling frequently used the expression in the Puck stories, where ‘folk in housen’  are ordinary human beings as compared with the fairy ‘people of the hills’.

“the peace my son foretold”] See John 14.27 (“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you”), but also Matthew 10.34 (“Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.”), paralleled at Luke 12.51.

The poem also echoes Kant’s idea of perpetual peace being assured by free trade between nations. I rather doubt that Kipling had read Kant, but perhaps he was familiar with this paradigm through Norman Angell (see KJ 336, 31), although the latter’s The Great Illusion was not published till 1909. But I’m sure the idea was in the air. [D.H.]

[Stanza 3]

Goshen: the part of Egypt inhabited by the Israelites when they lived there in exile.

Gadire: the country of the Gadarenes, near the Sea of Galilee in Israel.

[Stanza 4]

roared: See 1 Peter, 5.8: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour”

set each other by the ears: to set off a quarrel or dispute.

[Stanza 5]

all that he hath planned / we deliver to thy hand:  See Job 1.12: “And the LORD said unto Satan, Behold, all that he hath is in thy power”; Job 2.6: “And the LORD said unto Satan, Behold, he is in thine hand.” [D.H.]

[Stanza 6]

about the earth he hied: Daniel Hadas notes:  ‘See Job 1.7:  And the LORD said unto Satan, Whence comest thou? Then Satan answered the LORD, and said, From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it (repeated in Job 2.2)

There’s also more to be said about the poem’s relationship with the parable in Luke 16. Dives in Kipling is granted what God refuses to grant, at Dives’ request, to Lazarus in the parable: an opportunity for a man to return from the dead in order to make the world better.

27 Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house: 28 For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. 29 Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. 30 And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. 31 And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.

Kipling’s joke is that, whereas the Gospel’s Dives wants Lazarus to make the world better by preaching repentance, and God tells him this will fail, Kipling’s Dives is successful, because he uses credit rather than exhortations to virtue. This then evokes the parable of the unjust steward, earlier in the same chapter of Luke. “The children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light” (Luke 16.8): the resurrected Dives, like the unjust steward, deals with the world as a worldling, thus accomplishing what the resurrected Lazarus could not have by preaching repentance. So Dives is contrasted with the “saint and seer and prophet” (stanza 1), because he does not seek to bring about reform by changing the hearts of men (stanza 8: “their hearts were nothing altered”, etc. + stanza 12), but through economics.’ [D.H.]

Kings in idleness:   See Catullus 51: otium et reges prius et beatas / perdidit urbes (“in the past, idleness has destroyed both kings and flourishing cities”) [D.H.]

[Stanza 7]

money-changers: currency brokers. The ‘money-changers’ were driven out of the Temple in Jerusalem by Jesus. See Matthew 21,12, Mark 11,15.

Habergeon: coat of mail.

[Stanza 8]

Syrian and the Persian and the Mede/And their hearts were nothing altered: a list comprised of those who might be expected to be the villains, for in the Bible all these were the traditional enemies of the Jews. Also notice the echo of Daniel 6,12 ’the law of the Medes and Persians which altereth not’.

Atlantis and the Captains of the West: This is possibly a Biblical reference in view of the context, but I have found no source in which these terms are linked in a manner that would make sense here.

[Stanza 9]

broken his Commandment:  the biblical injunctions against lending money on interest. [D.H.]

[Stanza 16]

where the money changers sit:  Evokes the cleansing of the Temple by Christ. Again Dives brings peace (“the peace my Son foretold”, stanza 2) by doing the opposite of spreading Christian repentance. [D.H.]

Ancient Akkad: See Genesis 10,10, one of the cities of Nimrod and the principal city of Sargon 1, King of Babylon, who ruled from the Euphrates to the Mediterranean.

Islands of the Seas: See Isaiah 11,11.

[Stanza 17]

Ashdod a city of the Philistines, see I Samuel 1) situated on the military route between Syria and Egypt. Captured by the Assyrians in 711 BCE, see Isaiah 20,1.

[Stanza 18]

Is not Calno like Carcemish?: See Isaiah 10,7-9. Calno may be identical with Calneh, one of Nimrod’s cities on the east bank of the Tigris; it was commercially important. Carcemish was a town on the Euphrates, once the Hittite capital; it was twice reported captured, see 2 Chron.35,20 and Jeremiah 46,2.

Crowning Tyre: See Isaiah 23,8.

[Stanza 19]

Hast thou seen the pride of Moab?: See Jeremiah 48,29 and Isaiah 26,6.

Philistia: the land of the Philistines, traditional enemies of the Jewish peoples.

Gaza: the chief stronghold of the Philistines.

Askalon and Gath: respectively the westernmost and easternmost towns of Philistia.



©Mary Hamer 2008 All rights reserved