(Notes by Mary Hamer)

Publication history

First published without title, 26 October 1916, in The Times, the Daily Telegraph, and the New York Times. It formed part of the article entitled ‘The Meaning of Joss’ which was the third in the Destroyers at Jutland series.

Reprinted in Sea Warfare (1916), and in The Years Between (1919) when the title was added, and the Inclusive Verse (1919) when the date (1914-18) below the title was added. Also in Sussex Edition vols 26 and 33, Burwash Edition vols 20 and 26, and the Cambridge Edition, (Ed.) Pinney, p. 1070.


See notes on “Swept and Garnished” for the hatred German tactics had inspired in Britain from the early weeks of the war, and on “Asking for Trouble!” in Sea Warfare.

In a letter to Frank N. Doubleday, dated 18 March 1919, Kipling
explains that the poem is constructed to demonstrate

‘The difference between the spiritual attitudes of the Hun and his opponents. Really wicked people are never humorous and never dare to stand easy even for a moment.’ Thomas Pinney (Ed.) Letters IV p. 542

It is difficult to share these attitudes today. Only an act of historical imagination can help the reader: Kipling was aiming to rouse the nation to a deeper commitment to the war and besides that he brought to the moment a history of loss that embittered him personally. His son John had been killed at the battle of Loos in 1915.

Notes on the Text

[Stanza 1]

Zion: name of a mountain featured in the Old Testament, first found in Samuel II 5,7. It came to be associated with the sacred longing of the Jewish people for Jerusalem and its temple. The name Zion stood for everything they hoped for as a people.

halberds: a specialized form of spear consisting of an axe blade topped with a spike mounted on a long shaft. It always has a hook or ‘thorn’ on the back side of the axe blade for grappling.

[Stanza 2]

Baal: the name of a false god in the Old Testament.

scant: not much.

[Stanza 2]

our present dead: a phrase that emphasizes the enduring connection with those already killed in the war. Among them was Kipling’s own son, John.

free: accepted there. (A change from ‘sure’ found in the copyright edition and the New York Times.)

both her fellowships: the community of the living and the dead

whatever cup . . .lips: whatever bitter experience they must endure. An echo of New Testament Matthew 26: 39, ‘O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.’

See also Kipling’s poem Gethsemane.


©Mary Hamer 2014 All rights reserved