The King and the Sea


(notes by John McGivering and John Radcliffe)


This poem first appeared in the Morning Post and other newspapers on July 17th 1935. It is listed in ORG as No 1225. Another title was “Jubilee Poem”, or “Jubilee Ode”.

It is collected in:

  • Definitive Verse (1940)
  • The Sussex Edition vol xxxv (1939)
  • The Burwash Edition vol xxviii (1941)
  • Cambridge Edition (2013) Ed. Thomas Pinney, p. 1459.

The poem

The poem was written to celebrate the twenty~fifth anniversary (Silver Jubilee) of the accession of King George V to the throne in 1910, and the Fleet Review at Spithead. The Kiplings watched the Review from RMS Berengaria with Sir Percy Bates, the Chairman of Cunard, an old friend.

It describes the discomfort and general difficulties which a young Midshipman   in training had to endure, at sea, short of sleep, badly treated, and generally having an unpleasant time, which he triumphantly survives.

Kipling and the Monarchy

The King wrote to thank Kipling for the poem. They had a cordial relationship, and Kipling had drafted scripts for the King’s Christmas radio broadcasts. He was often invited to Buckingham Palace and Balmoral.

See “The King’s Job”.
“The King’s Task”.
“The King’s Pilgrimage”, and
“The Debt”.
See also Kipling’s speech “An Undefended Island” (May 1935).

George V (1865-1936) was King of the United Kingdom and the British Dominions, and Emperor of India, from 1910 until his death in 1936 within a few days of Kipling.

Naval background

The King’s father had seen the Royal Navy as ‘the very best possible training for any boy’. In 1877, when George was twelve, he and his brother joined the cadet training ship HMS Britannia at Dartmouth.

For three years, from 1879, they served in HMS Bacchante (above), an ironclad steam and sail corvette. When the Queen expressed concern that the ship would sink and drown her grandsons, the Navy took Bacchante through a gale, from which she emerged with flying colours.


See this entry in the Dictionary of National Biography for King George V::

In July 1889 Prince George took command of HMS Torpedo Boat no. 75, and in 1890 a gunboat, HMS Thrush (right), being promoted commander in August 1891.

These were no token or chaperoned commands, and a royal prince in a naval command was necessarily in a very exposed position.


Notes on the Text

[Verse 2]

Orb: a golden sphere surmounted by a cross, symbolising monarchy

Crown: an ornamental head-dress usually decorated with precious metal and jewels, worn by a king or queen.

wooden chest: at that time an item of luggage like a chest of drawers with no legs and a top that opens to disclose a wash-stand and compartments for toilet articles. The drawers below were for clothing. Used by midshipmen and cadets who would not be accommodated in a cabin but slung a hammock wherever possible (see below.)

steering-flat: a compartment at the stern containing the steering-engine and the emergency steer-by-hand mechanism.

Gunroom: in this context the mess-room of the midshipmen, cadets, etc. who were too junior to be accommodated in the wardroom.

[Verse 3]

hammock: in the Royal Navy a canvas, codline and rope arrangement with a mattress slung from hooks in the deck overhead, used with a blanket, for sleeping, taken down and stowed away in the daytime.

steel-grated prisons: A warship is strictly utilitarian and usually uncomfortable, as the crew is accommodated in spaces not required for other purposes.

niggard: in a mean or stingy manner, now rare,
though ‘niggardly’ is still in common usage.

ship’s traffic: Those accommodated in hammocks slung them wherever there was space, in alleyways, lobbies etc., see above.

[Verse 5]

watches: in this context the periods on and off duty known as ‘watch and watch’, four hours on duty and four off with two ‘dog-watches’ to prevent the same men from keeping the same watch every day.

[Verse 7]

Command:  in this context being appointed to command a ship, a proud step fpr a naval officer. See “!Judson and the Empire“.= and “Their Lawful Occasions”.”

gainsay: contradict.

[Verse 8]

Lieges: subjects, people who owe him allegiance.


©John McGivering and John Radcliffe 2017 All rights reserved