This poem (ORG no. 1119) was first published in The Times on November 10th, 1923) and on November 11th in various American newspapers under the title “London Town”; this should not be confused with the earlier poem of that title, published in 1884, and collected in Echoes, Early Verse, and Sussex Edition.
Regarding the alternate title and wording ‘London Town’, David Alan Richards offers the following note in his Bibliography:
This poem, an elegy on grieving for the dead, first appeared in the London Times on 10 November 1923 (the eve of the fifth anniversary of Armistice Day) under the title ‘London Stone’, but was published in the American Sunday newspapers for 11 November 1923 under the title ‘London Town’.
The text copy received by Doubleday from the McClure syndicate bore the American periodical title [London Town], and thus so did the publisher’s original version of the copyright edition (‘London Town’ on the front cover, title-page and first text page), forwarded to the Library of Congress in late November. The mistaken title having been noted and the original deposit copies returned, Frank Doubleday had five new copies made up with the correct title ‘London Stone’ ( according to the note in his copy now in the Doubleday Kipling Collection at Princeton), two of which were deposited as required by law in the Library of Congress (copyright no. 763342 of 17 December 1923, deposit copy date-stamped 28 December), two sent to Caroline Kipling, and one retained by Doubleday.
Since the copy in the British Library Kipling File is entitled ‘London Town’ it seems likely that the two remembered by the publisher as going to Mrs Kipling were actually the “two extra copies” of ‘London Stone’ sent by the Doubleday firm to A.S. Watt on 2 January 1924 (S.A. Everitt to Watt, WA 452.44), described as having been reprinted “but for the register of Copyrights only.”
In his complete scholarly Cambridge Edition of Kipling’s verse (Cambridge 2013), Thomas Pinney suggests that:
In R.K.’s poem the Cenotaph stands for London Stone, but the word “Stone” occurs only in the text as published in The Times, line 5; this was altered to “Town” thereafter, probably by mistake. The reading of line 5 in the corrected typescript at Yale is “Stone”; the bowed head fits the cenotaph rather than “London Town” and the rhyme with “own” fits “stone” rather than “town.”
“London Stone” is collected in:
- Inclusive Verse (1927)
- Definitive Verse (1940)
- Sussex Edition vol. 35 p. 258
- Burwash Edition vol. 28
- Cambridge Edition (2013, ed. Pinney) p. 1408
There is musical setting by Toby Darling.
This is one of Kipling’s ‘national’ poems, along with ‘Recessional’, etc., which were published in The Times, without fee to RK.
The “London Stone” of the title is the Cenotaph, the official British Commonwealth War Memorial in the centre of Whitehall in London. The original Cenotaph, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, was a temporary structure of wood and plaster, set up just for the Peace March in 1919. It was unveiled by King George V on 11 November 1920
as a memorial to all the fallen of the Great War.
Public pressure led to its replacement with the present permanent memorial in Portland stone, to the same design. John Walker suggests that the title of the poem was passing comment on this change from wood and plaster to lasting stone. It now commemorates all the fallen of both World Wars and the lesser conflicts since. It is at the centre of the ceremonies every Remembrance Day, which in Kipling’s time was 11 November, the actual day when the Armistice came into effect. Since 1945, it is the nearest Sunday to that date.
The Cenotaph is undecorated apart from a carved wreath on each end. The words “The Glorious Dead” are inscribed below the wreaths; above are the dates of the First World War in Roman numerals (1914 – MCMXIV and 1919 – MCMXIX). (The date of 1919 for the end of the War seems strange: it is usually spoken of as the 1914-18 War. But although the Armistice ended the fighting in 1918, the war was not technically over until peace was made with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on 28 June 1919.) After the Victory celebrations in June 1946, the dates of the Second World War were added (1939 – MCMXXXIX and 1945 – MCMXLV), and the Cenotaph was unveiled for a second time on Sunday 10 November 1946 by King George VI.
The Times for 12 November 1923 carried an account of the ceremony at the Cenotaph the day before. This had, as a sub-heading halfway through, the two words “Grieving! Grieving!” which feature in line 2 of each of the verses in “London Stone”.
It seems that Kipling did not attend the ceremony. His name does not feature anywhere in the reports in The Times. And the Carrington Extracts of Carrie Kipling’s diaries have no entry for 11 November 1923, but suggest, if they suggest anything at all, that he was in Sussex. The entries for the days before and after list stories completed, and there are specific mentions on other days in the month of “Rud in London”, or something similar.
According to the Carrington Extracts, three years before, on 11 November 1920, when the Cenotaph was unveiled, they were “in the park” – and so were nowhere near the ceremonies. Possibly, John’s loss was still too raw for them to attend. Had Kipling wanted to be there, his position as a member of the Imperial War Graves Commission would have entitled him to a place.
Notes on the Text
line 3 “Bring your flowers and lay them down”: Laying wreaths at the Cenotaph has always been a large part of the Remembrance Day ceremonies
lines 3 & 4 “Grave, this is thy victory;And the sting of death is grieving.”: See I Corinthians 15, 54-55; ‘…Death is swallowed up in victory: O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?’ Kipling finds no comfort in St. Paul’s triumphant phrases. They do not take away his grief at having lost his son John in the War. See below, verses 6 and 8.
line 3 “To comfort us for what we’ve given,”: Those who are grieving have given their relatives to die in the War. cf. The opening lines of another of Kipling’s war poems, “Mesopotamia”:
They shall not return to us, the resolute, the young,
The eager and whole-hearted whom we gave. (our emphasis)
lines 3 & 4, with Verse 8 lines 4 & 5 “But our neighbour’s standing here, Grieving as we’re grieving…” and “As I suffer, so do you, That may ease the grieving.”: The only possible help for their grief is to know that others share their suffering.
© Philip Holberton and Alastair Wilson 2014 All rights reserved