READING: Rudyard Kipling (1897): Recessional

Second thoughts on late-1800s British Imperial power, on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of Queen-Empress Victoria I Hanover's ascension to the throne

Rudyard Kipling (1897): Recessional:

God of our fathers, known of old,
Lord of our far-flung battle-line,
Beneath whose awful Hand we hold
Dominion over palm and pine—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

The tumult and the shouting dies;
The Captains and the Kings depart:
Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
An humble and a contrite heart.
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget! 

Far-called, our navies melt away;
On dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

If, drunk with sight of power, we loose
Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe,
Such boastings as the Gentiles use,
Or lesser breeds without the Law—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

For heathen heart that puts her trust
In reeking tube and iron shard,
All valiant dust that builds on dust,
And guarding, calls not Thee to guard,
For frantic boast and foolish word—
Thy mercy on Thy People, Lord! 

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Mary HammerNotes on the Text:

Title: Recessional counter to ‘processional’… when clergy and choir are to leave… 

Lest we forget: Deuteronomy 6,12: ‘Then beware lest thou forget the Lord which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt.’ 

The tumult…: Job 39,25: ‘the thunder of the captains and the shouting’. This suggests the noisy scenes of the recently completed Jubilee celebrations. 

Thine ancient sacrifice…: Psalm 51,17: ‘The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.’ 

Our pomp of yesterday: Psalm 90,4: ‘for a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday’. 

Nineveh: city on the east bank of the Tigris near modern Mosul the capital of the Assyrian empire: this fell in 612 BCE and Nineveh, whose vast ruins are still extant, was razed to the ground. Nahum 3,7: ‘Nineveh is laid waste; who will bemoan her?’. 

Tyre: Phoenician capital, with colonies around the Mediterranean, notably Carthage. Rich from trade and famous for its purple dye, a strategically placed coastal site, it was taken and destroyed by Alexander in 332 BCE. 

Such boastings as the Gentiles use…: Romans 2, 14: ‘For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves’…. Russia… and Germany, which by 1897 had begun to take an interest in the Far East and was Britain’s rival in the scramble for Africa…

UPDATE: guarding, calls not Thee…: As is pointed out in comments, George Orwell thinks this is an echo of Psalm 127: “except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain” <>

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