The Heritage

(notes by John Radcliffe and Daniel Hadas)


First published in Collier’s Weekly on November 4th 1905. ORG No. 880.

It is collected in:

  • Songs from Books (1912)
  • Inclusive Verse (1919)
  • Definitive Verse (1940)
  • Sussex Edition Vol. Vol. 34 p. 90
  • Burwash Edition Vol. 27
  • Wordsworth Edition Poems of Rudyard Kipling (2001)
  • Cambridge Edition (2013 Ed. Pinney) p. 746.

Thomas Pinney notes:

As is true of a few other items in Songs from Books, this poem is not from a book published by RK”. Inclusion is presumably due rather to its publication in The Empire and the Century, 1905 London, ed. Charles Sydney Goldman (online here).


This is another example of Kipling’s long series of poems and tales pointing out the importance of a strong Navy and Army. These include:

“The Three-decker” (1894),
“The Dykes” (1902), and
“The Storm-Cone” (1932), which foretold the 1939 war.

A continuing theme is that our fathers worked, denying themselves pleasures so that we would be secure; our duty is to do the same for our children to safeguard their heritage.

When this poem was written, in 1905, Kipling was keenly aware of how unprepared British forces had been for the South African War, and how they might well have to face a war in Europe in the not-too-distant future. This was also the theme of “A Village Rifle Club” (1901), and “The Army of a Dream” (1904).

Notes on the Text

[Verse 1]

Ere yet the earth was small: steamships and railways had revolutionized communications, so the earth had indeed become smaller and would become smaller still with the arrival of air travel.

Six of the seven maps in The Empire and the Century are of cable networks, and cables are discussed frequently throughout the book. Eg. p. 65. See also The Deep Sea Cables (1893).   [D.H.]

[Verse 2]

Daniel Hadas notes that the theme of walls, etc. not being the sole source of England’s strength echoes Thucydides 7.77.7:

“Men make the city, and not walls or ships without men in them”.

[Verse 3]

not lambs alone nor purchased doves See the offerings for a newborn child set out at Leviticus 12.6-8

And when the days of her purifying are completed, whether for a son or for a daughter, she shall bring to the priest at the entrance of the tent of meeting a lamb a year old for a burnt offering , and a pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering, and he shall offer it before the Lord…

The offering is carried out by Mary and Joseph for Jesus at Luke 6.24. By using these allusions, Kipling is positing the empire as a sort of Messianic child of the men who built it.[D.H.]

[Verse 4]

yoke: in this context the wooden device put on the necks of bullocks to enable them to haul a wagon or gun or plough, and so a badge of servitude



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