The Last Ode

(Notes by Lisa Lewis and Susan Treggiari}


First published in Debits and Credits (1926), following the story “The Eye of Allah”.


This is another of Kipling’s poems in imitation of the Roman poet Horace (see notes on “To the Companions”, “The Survival” and “The Portent”). “The Last Ode” is supposed to be written just before the poet’s death. Kipling had written the first verse (with “instant power” instead of “present strength” in the third line) in the margin of his copy of Horace, as a comment on Ode 17, Bk. II, in which Horace prayed that he would not outlive Maecenas [Carrington, Kipling’s Horace p. 27].

 Daniel Hadas adds: Horace was widely read from the 9th century onwards by those interested in Latin poetry, of whom there were many in the Middle Ages. Medieval readers did seem to prefer the Satires to the Odes, but they read both. A 1942 study of Horace’s transmission (H. Buttenwieser, Speculum 17, 53-5) records nearly 300 manuscripts of Horace, of which 250 were copied before 1300 (information from Reynolds et al, Texts and Tranmission, 1983, Oxford. There has been further study on this since, but it won’t change the overall picture). [D.H.]

Notes on the Text

[line 1] Bantine: Bantia was a village near Venusia, Horace’s birthplace. It is mentioned on Ode 4, Bk. III.

[line 2] dawn wind: a favourite theme of Kipling’s: see “The Prophet and the Country,” pp. 199-200. See also the poem “The Dawn Wind”.

[line 5] Virgil died: Horace’s friend the poet Virgil had died in 19 BCE. A passage in his Eclogue IV foretold the birth of a child who would lead the world into a new golden age. This was read by the churchmen as prophesying the coming of Christ.

Daniel Hadas notes::Virgil and Horace survived without difficulty because they were school texts, and the Latin school tradition never entirely collapsed.[D.H.]

[line 11] Star: The “Virgo” at Eclogue 4.6 is, inter alia, the constellation Virgo: [D.H.]

[lines 12-13] lost shades … forever: This seems to echo the themes of the poem “Jane’s Marriage” and the story “A Madonna of the Trenches”

[lines 12-13]  our loves restored …  If Kipling is referring to anything in Eclogue 4, it must be ll. 34-36, which refer to a new voyage of the Argonauts and  a newTrojan War in the Golden Age to come (but it’s not easy to take these lines as prophesying the Christian resurrection of the dead, which is Kipling’s underlying reference).  [D.H.]

[line 15] Maecenas: Maecenas was a wealthy and influential patron who supported both Virgil and Horace. Maecenas died in 8 BCE, a few days before Horace. His tomb was on the Esquiline, one of the seven hills of Rome, where he had lived. Horace would be buried near him.