ORG (Volume 8, page 5442) lists this poem as Verse No. 1010. It was first published in The Times on September 2nd 1914, a month after the outbreak of what was to become known as The First World War. (In 1926 eight lines of the poem were re-printed under the title “No Easy Hope”.)
It is collected in:
- The Years Between 1919
- Inclusive Verse 1919
- Definitive Verse 1940
- Sussex Edition vol. 33, page 363
- Burwash Edition vol. 26
- A Choice of Kipling’s Verse, T S Eliot, Faber 1941
- The Works of Rudyard Kipling, Wordsworth Poetry Library 1994
See David Alan Richards p. 245 for further details of publication and p. 700 for the musical settings.
The poem is a sober call to arms at the outset of the 1914-18 War. Kipling had been warning for a decade of the need to prepare to resist the growing menace of Germany, and he was in no doubt that this would be a life and death struggle for England.
Miss Cecily Nicholson, formerly Kipling’s Private Secretary, writes in
KJ 222, p.17:
Though information about the shattering Russian defeat at Tannenberg (26-28 August) was still incomplete, and the extent of the catastrophe to French arms in Lorraine (300,000 casualties between 14 and 25 August) was stringently concealed, the published news was bad enough. German armies were rolling forward relentlessly amid sickening stories of atrocities and ruthlessness. They had overrun Liège, Brussels, Lille and Amiens in the last three weeks of August. As they closed on Paris the French Government was packing for Bordeaux.
By 30 August the small British Expeditionary Force, man for man the world’s best troops, had for a long hot week been reeling back from Mons. The Times carried
headlines that no one could have imagined a month before:
GERMAN ‘TIDAL WAVE’ … BROKEN BRITISH REGIMENTS
BATTLING AGAINST ODDS … MORE MEN NEEDED
In the wake of such events, and with the ‘Miracle of the Marne’ still a week ahead, the resounding appeal of this poem, its soberly moral base, and the stark austerity of its style, gave it an impact and immediacy which many who read it on that September morning (Charles Carrington for one, Ed.) would never forget.
Kipling himself in 1919 wrote in a letter to Frank Doubleday (see Letters, Ed. Thomas Pinney, vol 4 p. 541) that the poem was:
Generally adjudged at the time it was written as “too serious for the needs of the case”, but in 1915 it was realised that it was the truth.
The war effort continued to have his whole-hearted support despite the death in action of his 18-year-old son in 1915.
Harry Ricketts (p. 315) reports Kipling’s recruiting speeches in Brighton on 7 September where he addressed two meetings – one in The Dome in Church Street and an overflow in the Corn Exchange next door.
Some critical opinions
(p. 448) tells how Kipling spent the first month of the war (declared on 4h August, 1914)
…studying the news of the German advance into France and Belgium. Then towards the end of the month he marshalled his thoughts in a poem, “For All We Have and Are”, which showed he had lost none of his Boer War gift for striking an appropriate note of swelling patriotism. Percival Landon proved his worth as a friend, first by making ‘an excellent suggestion about the verses’ and then by taking them by hand to The Times, where they were published to acclaim on 2 September. As a result of official and pirated copies, the whole world was soon aware of Rudyard’s call to ‘stand up….The Hun is at the gate….’.
[Perceval Landon (1868-1927) was a journalist on the staff of The Times. who had worked with Kipling on The Friend of Bloemfontein newspaper during the Second South African War. See our Notes on “A Burgher of the Free State” and “With Number Three”, two otherwise uncollected stories which can be found in the Sussex Edition, and other South African stories and poems. See also Julian Ralph’s War’s Brighter Side]
Marghanita Laski (p. 160) sees this as
…quietly dignified, a reflection of the best of the nation’s mood.
Notes on the Text
Hun The Huns were a nomadic warrior people from east of the Volga, who invaded Europe in the Fourth Century A.D., and built up a vast empire. The ruthless behaviour of the German forces during the Boxer Rebellion in China in 1900 was believed to be inspired by a speech by Kaiser Wilhelm II, in which he said:
…When you come upon the enemy, smite him. Pardon will not be given. Prisoners will not be taken. Whoever falls into your hands is forfeit. Once, a thousand years ago, the Huns under their King Attila made a name for themselves, one still potent in legend and tradition. May you in this way make the name ‘German’ remembered in China for a thousand years so that no Chinaman will ever again dare to even squint at a German!…
In 1914 Germany’s official policy of schreklichkeit (frightfulness) to terrorise any oppoosition and sweep quickly through Belgium towards Paris, expressed a similar philosophy. Rodney Atwood writes:
As the Germans entered Belgium they conducted a wave of terror to subdue ‘Francs-tireurs’ (‘free-shooters’), irregulars of the sort they had had such trouble with in France in 1870-1 after the conventional French armies had been beaten. Villages were set alight and civilians shot down in savage reprisals for alleged attacks on German troops, almost all of them false although the sort of mistakes inexperienced soldiers make. For details see the book by John Horne and Alan Kramer published by Yale University Press in 2001: German Atrocities 1914: a History of Denial.
These atrocities are sometimes dismissed as British propaganda. They were all too true, with one exception; no hands were cut off Belgian children, as was widely reported by apparent eye-witnesses and believed by many including Kipling.
These shootings culminated in the killing by firing squads of over 600 men, women and children in the main square at Dinant, and in one other event which may have triggered Kipling’s poem. Roughly a week before the poem’s publication, German forces burnt down the centre of the mediaeval city of Louvain with its priceless library of manuscripts. [R.A.]
“The Hun is at the gate” has been taken as an incitement to racial hatred. No: ‘the Hun’ is a metaphor for ‘the barbarian, the enemy of decent values’, and ‘the gate’ is not that of England and the Empire, but that of civilisation. If there is a fault here, it is one of overstatement only.
Commandments In Biblical tradition the ‘Ten Commandments’ were a list of moral and religious rules handed down by God to Moses, the leader of the Israeliites, and set forth in Deuteronomy 5 in the Old Testament. The Sixth Commandment is ‘Thou shalt not kill’.
©John McGivering and John Radcliffe 2011 All rights reserved