Pity poor fighting men – background

(notes by Philip Holberton)

Publication

Thomas Pinney (Cambridge,1913) records the poem as first published, along with “With Number Three”, in the Daily Mail on April 21, 1900, and the New York Herald and other papers on the same day.  ORG records an unauthorised booklet published by Hume & Co, in Santiago, Chile the same year. This is not referred to by Pinney since it was a ‘pirate’ edition.  See our notes on “With Number Three”.

The poem was collected in Songs from Books in  1912 (US) and 1913 (UK) and later verse collections.  It was not given a title by Kipling, but was set as a song for a baritone by Martin Shaw in 1919. (Mattinson).

Daniel Hadas comments:

‘It’s interesting that Kipling chose to anthologise this poem in 1912, long before he did so for its accompanying article. (With Number Three was not collected until 1938 for the Sussex and Burwash editions.) Its theme is dear to his heart – compare “The Last of the Light Brigade” – and he may have been proud of the sucker punch of l.10. ‘

Worthy God’s pity most—you who succeed!

Notes on the Text

fame never found them: their brave deeds were hidden in the dust of battle and never seen. See “Winning the Victoria Cross” (Land and Sea Tales p. 22): ‘Every V.C. I have spoken to has been rather careful to explain that he won his Cross because what he did happened to be done when and where someone could notice it.’

the lazar: (usually lazar-house) a hospital.

Sons of the Laurel: soldiers seeking fame. The Romans used laurel leaves as crowns of victory.

meed: reward, honour.

[P.H.]

©Philip Holberton 2020 All rights reserved