MacDonough’s Song

(notes edited by John McGivering and John Radcliffe)


First printed in full following “As Easy as A.B.C.” in A Diversity of Creatures (1917); the last four lines are included in the text of the story in the magazine versions, and in A Diversity of Creatures on page 11.

It is collected in Inclusive Verse, Definitive Verse, The Works of Rudyard Kipling (Wordsworth Poetry Library), A Choice of Kipling’s Verse (Ed. T.S.Eliot), the Sussex Edition Volume 9 page 43, and Volume 34 page 307, the Burwash Edition Volumes 9 and 27, and the Cambridge Edition of 2013.

See also Kipling’s “The Holy War”

The poem

Daniel Hadas notes: that this poem does not represent Kipling’s own view. Rather, it’s meant to articulate a stepping-stone in the creation of the dystopian technocracy Kipling imagines in ‘As Easy as ABC’.This also sheds some light on the title; MacDonough is clearly imagined as some ideologue of the In-Between Times. As for the choice of name, I wonder if this could be a humorous reference to the American writer Glen MacDonough   [D.H.]


Notes on the Text

[Verse 1] schoolmen: in this context usually taken to be the teachers of religion in medieval universities.

loose and bind In Heaven as well as on Earth: See Matthew 16.19

whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

This is a key text in late medieval debates on the relative powers of Church and State, debates that were carried out precisely by “schoolmen” such as Marsilius of Padua. [D.H.]

Holy State … Holy War: refers to the various wars, both civil and international, over the years between people of different religions or churches and sects within them.

[Verse 3] Saying – after – me: an echo of “The Order for Morning Prayer” and “… Evening Prayer” in the Church of England, where the Priest leads the congregation in the General Confession.

[Verse 4]

Terror gave it birth:   This echoes the famous Latin formula “primus in orbe deos fecit timor” (“fear first created gods on earth”), which is found in Petronius, poem 28, and Statius, Thebaid 3.611. Switching god and people here matches one of the themes of the poem, which is that both, if perceived as sacred or transcendent, are equally dangerous. [D.H.]



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