A Hymn Before Action

Sunday, September 19, AD 2010

The second in my series examining the poetry of Kipling.  Kipling liked to keep his religious views obscure.  In 1908 he described himself as a “God-fearing Christian atheist”.  There are many other remarks he made about his religious views which are just as cryptic.  Why he did this is hard to say, except perhaps for his own amusement.  Kipling had a well-developed sense of humor and enjoyed practical jokes both literary and otherwise.  He was an enthusiastic mason for a number of years, but there is little evidence he viewed it as anything other than an amusing convivial organization.

In his poems Kipling did not shy away from religious themes.  More than a few of his poems, short stories and novels have a fairly strong religious element.  Perhaps his most strongly religious poem is a Hymn Before Action which he composed in 1896:

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5 Responses to A Hymn Before Action

  • 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 boasting 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!

  • Donald

    For those who kneel beside us
    At altars not Thine own,
    Who lack the lights that guide us,
    Lord, let their faith atone!

    If wrong we did to call them,
    By honour bound they came;
    Let not Thy Wrath befall them,
    But deal to us the blame.

    A very good point on the first part of the stanza. I always read this part of the stanza to refer to the enemy, if we going to war unjustly give them the victory.

  • In 1908 he described himself as a “God-fearing Christian atheist”. There are many other remarks he made about his religious views which are just as cryptic. Why he did this is hard to say, except perhaps for his own amusement.

    Or by way of confessing masonic leanings?

  • “Or by way of confessing masonic leanings?”

    Kipling never made any secret of his membership in the masons. Several of his stories have masonic membership as a plot element, including one of my favorites, The Man Who Would Be King.

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