The Return

(notes by Mary Hamer)

Publication history

One of the suite of sixteen ‘Service Songs’ which close The Five Nations. This may have been written specifically for The Five Nations.


See the notes to “M.I.”. Collected in Sussex Edition vol. 33 and the Burwash Edition, vol. 26. Reprinted in Remember Louvain! A Little Book of Liberty and War, 1914.  It is possible that Kipling was already working on this in January 1901, see letter to Moberly Bell. [Letters Vol 3, Ed. Pinney.]

Daniel Hadas notes: ‘The ‘Service Songs’ in The Five Nations open with ‘Chant-Pagan’ and close with ‘The Return’. The latter is a sort of answer to the former. Both are about soldiers’ return to England from the Boer War. The speaker in ‘Chant-Pagan’ wants to go back to South Africa. He wonders (stanza 6):’

If it’s only my fancy or not
That the sunshine of England is pale,
And the breezes of England are stale,
An’ there’s something’ gone small with the lot.

And the speaker of ‘The Return’ answers: No, because England is not just what she seems. But of course, the speaker of ‘The Return’ hasn’t actually got home yet.  [D.H.].

Notes on the Text

(by Mary Hamer drawing on various sources, in particular
Ralph Durand, “A Handbook to the Poetry of Rudyard Kipling” 1914.)

[Title] When it was collected for the Sussex Edition Kipling added the subscript ‘(All Arms)’ a change which insists that for all the men returning from the Anglo-Boer War, it had been a seasoning and maturing experience, challenging them in their view of the world, not least in their view of Britain and what it stood for. He also added a note to explain that ’Thamesfontein’ meant London.

[Stanza 1] ‘Ackneystadt: Hackney, a poor district in the east end of London. The very coinage emphasises the speaker’s intelligence and wit.

[Stanza 2] Putty brass and paint:  just made for show, like the scenery in a theatre. The speaker has seen behind the shams but still cherishes a dream of England different from the side the war has taught him to see. The italics employed throughout the quatrain are set in deliberate contrast with the final emphatic: ‘But she ain’t’, a device that indicates a continuing tension in the speaker.

[Stanza 5] Struck off: their likeness taken, as in a lightning sketch.

[Stanza 6] Legs tied down: for burial.

[Stanza 8] Gawd ,’oo knows all I cannot say … Thamesfontein: The speaker is aware that his new authority and independence of mind may be a danger to him and must be concealed when he is back in London. Renaming London as ‘Thamesfontein’ plays on the name of the Boer town ‘Bloemfontein’, while suggesting that London too has been transformed by the experience of South Africa.


©Mary Hamer 2008 All rights reserved