The Pageant of Parliament

“A Pageant of Elizabeth”

“Non Nobis Domine”


(Notes by John Radcliffe)


From June 29th to July 21st 1934, a major dramatic event, The Pageant of Parliament was held in the Royal Albert Hall in London, celebrating the history of Parliament and the British people over the seven hundred years since Magna Carta. (719 to be exact, since the first Great Charter was issued in 1215: see wikipedia) The libretto was by the poet John Masefield, the Musical Director was Malcolm Sargent, and the choir the Royal Choral Society. The names of the script-writers are listed as:

Creighton, Walter
Kipling, Rudyard
Shakespeare, William

For more details of the event visit “The Redress of the Past” .

Kipling’s contribution consisted of three poems, two of which were collected together as “A Pageant of Elizabeth”, and the third as “Non Nobis Domine”. The poems were  published in the Daily Telegraph and other London newspapers on June 29th 1934. They are listed in ORG as 1220 and 1221.

Daniel Hadas adds: there is a musical setting by Roger Quilter (recording here) and the Redress of the Past page for this pageant names Quilter as a composer and reports  that the poem was sung by choir boys. The poem’s title and opening are from psalm 115.1:

Not unto us, O LORD, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory, for thy mercy, and for thy truth’s sake.

“Non nobis domine” is not unto us [o] Lord” in the Latin text of the psalms. [G.H.]

The poems  are collected in:

  • The Definitive Verse (1940)
  • The Sussex Edition vol xxxv (1939)
  • The Burwash Edition vol xxviii (1941)
  • Cambridge Edition (2013) Ed. Thomas Pinney, pp. 1446 and 1447.

The Poems

The poems are markedly different in tone, a vivid illustration of the two sides of Kipling’s head. The two which make up “A Pageant of Elizabeth” are a paean of praise to the age of Gloriana, Queen Elizabeth, whose captains went forth ‘like demi-gods’ to conquer a new world for her. ‘England-England-England takes the breath’ expresses a triumphalist mood, which now seems a world away, and even then may have felt incongruous to some at a time of peril in the world at large, and mass unemployment at home.

See “Gloriana” in Rewards and Fairies, and the linked poem “The Queen’s Men” (“The Two Cousins”)  about brave young Englishmen going to their deaths across the seas to serve their Queen.

With “Non nobis domine” (‘not to us, O Lord’) we are back to the Kipling of “Recessional”, a measured humility. refusing praise or glory, and – in what he calls ‘hot and godless days’ – admitting that we have valued fame and wealth too highly, and asking forgiveness. A sombre message for the 1930s, far from the Elizabethan trumpets.

Jan Montefiore points out that ‘Non nobis domine’ was an expression Kipling liked well. In “The Eye of Allah”, the artist John of Burgos is asked how he did grisaille ‘shadow- work’, and replies: ‘Non nobis ! It came to me’. (Debits and Credits p. 383, line 14) This was a sentiment that Kipling himself would have felt about his best loved works, like Kim and the Mowgli stories, for which he felt animated by his ‘daemon’.

“Non nobis domine”, together with “A Pageant of Elizabeth”, was set to music by Roger Quilter. Jan recalls singing it at school in the 1960s as a sort of secular hymn.

©John Radcliffe 2018 All rights reserved