The thirtieth in my ongoing series examining the poetry of Rudyard Kipling. The other posts in the series may be read here, here , here , here, here , here, here, here, here, here, here, here , here, here, here , here, here, here , here, here, here , here, here , here , here , here , here, here and here. One of the many reasons to read Kipling is due to how much of his writing stands the test of time. A good example of this is Dane-geld written in 1911. Danegeld was a tax levied by the Kings of Wessex to buy peace with the various invading warbands of Danes in the ninth through the eleventh century. The Danegeld of course convinced the various Danes in Denmark that it was a good idea to invade England, be bought off in gold by a Saxon king and then to settle in England and repeat the process whenever money ran short. One would think that the bad consequences of giving way to such extortion should be obvious, but it is amazing how often this simple lesson has been repeated down the centuries. The Obama administration has paid Danegeld of a sort to various enemies, or would be enemies, of the US, including Iran, Russia, North Korea, thus having the US pay for trouble down the road.
Kipling is not merely to be read for amusement during an idle hour. Read carefully he often has wisdom useful for today. Here is the text of Dane-geld: Continue reading
All of his life Abraham Lincoln enjoyed poetry and would occasionally compose poetry. In the fall of 1844 he was campaigning for Henry Clay in Clay’s unsuccessful run for the Presidency in southern Indiana and visited the region where he lived as a boy. He told a friend that the terrain was the most unpoetic imaginable, but moved by nostalgia he set pen to paper:
My childhood’s home I see again,
And sadden with the view;
And still, as memory crowds my brain,
There’s pleasure in it too.
O Memory! thou midway world
‘Twixt earth and paradise,
Where things decayed and loved ones lost
In dreamy shadows rise,
And, freed from all that’s earthly vile,
Seem hallowed, pure, and bright,
Like scenes in some enchanted isle
All bathed in liquid light.
As dusky mountains please the eye
When twilight chases day;
As bugle-tones that, passing by,
In distance die away;
As leaving some grand waterfall,
We, lingering, list its roar–
So memory will hallow all
We’ve known, but know no more.
Near twenty years have passed away
Since here I bid farewell
To woods and fields, and scenes of play,
And playmates loved so well.
Where many were, but few remain
Of old familiar things;
But seeing them, to mind again
The lost and absent brings.
The friends I left that parting day,
How changed, as time has sped!
Young childhood grown, strong manhood gray,
And half of all are dead.
I hear the loved survivors tell
How nought from death could save,
Till every sound appears a knell,
And every spot a grave.
I range the fields with pensive tread,
And pace the hollow rooms,
And feel (companion of the dead)
I’m living in the tombs. Continue reading
The cheapest and most childish of all the taunts of the Pacifists is, I think, the sneer at belligerents for appealing to the God of Battles. It is ludicrously illogical, for we obviously have no right to kill for victory save when we have a right to pray for it. If a war is not a holy war, it is an unholy one — a massacre.
G.K. Chesterton, October 23, 1915
(Rudyard Kipling was born one hundred and fifty years ago yesterday on December 30, 1865. To observe the date I am reposting this post from 2011. On all that I have written about Kipling, and that is now a considerable amount, this is my favorite piece. I would observe in passing that both Chesterton and CS Lewis, although they differed considerably from Kipling’s views on many topics, were both fans of him as a writer.)
The eighth in my ongoing series examining the poetry of Rudyard Kipling. The other posts in the series may be read here, here , here , here, here , here and here. Kipling wrote quite a few poems during his lifetime. Some are world-famous, most are not, and some are today almost completely forgotten. The Holy War (1917) is today one of Kipling’s most obscure poems, but caused something of a stir when he wrote it in Advent during 1917.
A tinker out of Bedford,
A vagrant oft in quod,
A private under Fairfax,
A minister of God–
Two hundred years and thirty
Ere Armageddon came
His single hand portrayed it,
And Bunyan was his name!_
He mapped, for those who follow,
The world in which we are–
‘This famous town of Mansoul’
That takes the Holy War
Her true and traitor people,
The gates along her wall,
From Eye Gate unto Feel Gate,
John Bunyan showed them all.
All enemy divisions,
Recruits of every class,
And highly-screened positions
For flame or poison-gas,
The craft that we call modern,
The crimes that we call new,
John Bunyan had ’em typed and filed
In Sixteen Eighty-two
Likewise the Lords of Looseness
That hamper faith and works,
And Present-Comfort shirks,
With brittle intellectuals
Who crack beneath a strain–
John Bunyan met that helpful set
In Charles the Second’s reign.
Emmanuel’s vanguard dying
For right and not for rights,
My Lord Apollyon lying
To the State-kept Stockholmites,
The Pope, the swithering Neutrals,
The Kaiser and his Gott–
Their roles, their goals, their naked souls–
He knew and drew the lot.
Now he hath left his quarters,
In Bunhill Fields to lie.
The wisdom that he taught us
Is proven prophecy–
One watchword through our armies,
One answer from our lands–
‘No dealings with Diabolus
As long as Mansoul stands.
_A pedlar from a hovel,
The lowest of the low,
The father of the Novel,
Salvation’s first Defoe,
Eight blinded generations
Ere Armageddon came,
He showed us how to meet it,
And Bunyan was his name!_
At one level the poem is a fairly straight-forward paean to John Bunyan, the English writer who penned Pilgrims’s Progress, which every school child used to read back in days when schools spent far more time on academics and far less time on political indoctrination and fake subjects like “Consumer Ed”. He also wrote quite a few other books and pamphlets, perhaps the best known of which is The Holy War, which portrays a war for the City of Mansoul between the good defenders and the evil besiegers. I need not spell out the allegorical meaning of the work when the city’s named is rendered as Man Soul. Kipling had been a devotee of Bunyan since his childhood, and I suppose that part of his motivation in writing the poem was to pay back a literary debt. Continue reading
Ezra Pound, fascist, anti-Semite, traitor and loon, was still a great poet. I have always admired this poem, not because of the way Christ is portrayed, but the imagination behind it. Christ and the apostles transformed into quasi Viking heroes of a medieval chronicle! All very odd. I am interested in opinions from our readers on the poem and on Pound as a poet. Here is T.S. Eliot on Pound as a poet.
The Destruction of Sennacherib
The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold,
And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold;
And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea,
When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee.
Like the leaves of the forest when Summer is green,
That host with their banners at sunset were seen:
Like the leaves of the forest when Autumn hath blown,
That host on the morrow lay withered and strown.
For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast,
And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed;
And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill,
And their hearts but once heaved, and for ever grew still!
And there lay the steed with his nostril all wide,
But through it there rolled not the breath of his pride;
And the foam of his gasping lay white on the turf,
And cold as the spray of the rock-beating surf.
And there lay the rider distorted and pale,
With the dew on his brow, and the rust on his mail:
And the tents were all silent, the banners alone,
The lances unlifted, the trumpet unblown.
And the widows of Ashur are loud in their wail,
And the idols are broke in the temple of Baal;
And the might of the Gentile, unsmote by the sword,
Hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord!
George Gordon, Lord Byron Continue reading
The home raids on conservatives in Wisconsin, go here to read about them, brought this Stephen Vincent Benet poem that he wrote in 1935 to mind. If more people do not stand up when government is run by gangsters this could happen here:
For all those beaten, for the broken heads,
The fosterless, the simple, the oppressed,
The ghosts in the burning city of our time…
For those taken in rapid cars to the house and beaten
By the skillful boys with the rubber fists,
-Held down and beaten, the table cutting the loins
Or kicked in the groin and left, with the muscles jerking
Like a headless hen’s on the floor of the slaughter-house
While they brought the next man in with his white eyes staring.
For those who still said “Red Front” or “God save the Crown!”
And for those who were not courageous
But were beaten nevertheless.
For those who spit out the bloody stumps of their teeth
Quietly in the hall,
Sleep well on stone or iron, watch for the time
And kill the guard in the privy before they die,
Those with the deep-socketed eyes and the lamp burning.
For those who carry the scars, who walk lame – for those
Whose nameless graves are made in the prison-yard
And the earth smoothed back before the morning and the lime scattered.
For those slain at once.
For those living through the months and years
Enduring, watching, hoping, going each day
To the work or the queue for meat or the secret club,
Living meanwhile, begetting children, smuggling guns,
And found and killed at the end like rats in a drain.
For those escaping
Incredibly into exile and wandering there.
For those who live in the small rooms of foreign cities
And who yet think of the country, the long green grass,
The childhood voices, the language, the way wind smelt then,
The shape of rooms, the coffee drunk at the table,
The talk with friends, the loved city, the waiter’s face,
The gravestones, with the name, where they will not lie
Nor in any of that earth.
Their children are strangers.
For those who planned and were leaders and were beaten
And for those, humble and stupid, who had no plan
But were denounced, but were angry, but told a joke,
But could not explain, but were sent away to the camp,
But had their bodies shipped back in the sealed coffins,
“Died of pneumonia.” “Died trying to escape.”
For those growers of wheat who were shot by their own wheat-stacks,
For those growers of bread who were sent to the ice-locked wastes.
And their flesh remembers the fields.
For those denounced by their smug, horrible children
For a peppermint-star and the praise of the Perfect State,
For all those strangled, gelded or merely starved
To make perfect states; for the priest hanged in his cassock,
The Jew with his chest crushed in and his eyes dying,
The revolutionist lynched by the private guards
To make perfect states, in the names of the perfect states.
For those betrayed by the neigbours they shook hands with
And for the traitors, sitting in the hard chair
With the loose sweat crawling their hair and their fingers restless
As they tell the street and the house and the man’s name.
And for those sitting at the table in the house
With the lamp lit and the plates and the smell of food,
Talking so quietly; when they hear the cars
And the knock at the door, and they look at each other quickly
And the woman goes to the door with a stiff face,
Smoothing her dress.
“We are all good citizens here. We believe in the Perfect State.”
And that was the last time Tony or Karl or Shorty came to the house
And the family was liquidated later.
It was the last time.
We heard the shots in the night
But nobody knew next day what the trouble was
And a man must go to his work.
So I didn’t see him
For three days, then, and me near out of my mind
And all the patrols on the streets with their dirty guns
And when he came back, he looked drunk, and the blood was on him.
For the women who mourn their dead in the secret night,
For the children taught to keep quiet, the old children,
The children spat-on at school.
For the wrecked laboratory,
The gutted house, the dunged picture, the pissed-in well
The naked corpse of Knowledge flung in the square
And no man lifting a hand and no man speaking.
For the cold of the pistol-butt and the bullet’s heat,
For the ropes that choke, the manacles that bind,
The huge voice, metal, that lies from a thousand tubes
And the stuttering machine-gun that answers all.
For the man crucified on the crossed machine guns
Without name, without ressurection, without stars,
His dark head heavy with death and his flesh long sour
With the smell of his many prisons – John Smith, John Doe,
John Nobody – oh, crack your mind for his name!
Faceless as water, naked as the dust,
Dishonored as the earth the gas-shells poison
And barbarous with portent.
This is he.
This is the man they ate at the green table
Putting their gloves on ere they touched the meat.
This is the fruit of war, the fruit of peace,
The ripeness of invention, the new lamb,
The answer to the wisdom of the wise.
And still he hangs, and still he will not die
And still, on the steel city of our years
The light falls and the terrible blood streams down.
We thought we were done with these things but we were wrong.
We thought, because we had power, we had wisdom.
We thought the long train would run to the end of Time.
We thought the light would increase.
Now the long train stands derailed and the bandits loot it.
Now the boar and the asp have power in our time.
Now the night rolls back on the West and the night is solid.
Our fathers and ourselves sowed dragon’s teeth.
Our children know and suffer the armed men.
Something for the weekend. I Am a Rebel Soldier sung by Waylon Jennings. Stephen Vincent Benet in his epic poem on the Civil War, John Brown’s Body, follows, in part of his poem, a Confederate Georia cavalry unit in the Army of Northern Virginia, the Black Horse Troop. On the way to Appomattox they met their destiny guarding the rear of their expiring Army. I have always thought this was a fitting tribute to the men of that Army who endured to the end.
Wingate wearily tried to goad
A bag of bones on a muddy road
Under the grey and April sky
While Bristol hummed in his irony
“If you want a good time, jine the cavalry!
Well, we jined it, and here we go,
The last event in the circus-show,
The bareback boys in the burnin’ hoop
Mounted on cases of chicken-croup,
The rovin’ remains of the Black Horse Troop!
Though the only horse you could call real black
Is the horsefly sittin’ on Shepley’s back,
But, women and children, do not fear,
They’ll feed the lions and us, next year.
And, women and children, dry your eyes,
The Southern gentleman never dies.
He just lives on by his strength of will
Like a damn ole rooster too tough to kill
Or a brand-new government dollar-bill
That you can use for a trousers-patch
Or lightin’ a fire, if you’ve got a match,
Or makin’ a bunny a paper collar,
Or anythin’ else–except a dollar.
Old folks, young folks, never you care,
The Yanks are here and the Yanks are there,
But no Southern gentleman knows despair.
He just goes on in his usual way,
Eatin’ a meal every fifteenth day
And showin’ such skill in his change of base
That he never gets time to wash his face
While he fights with a fury you’d seldom find
Except in a Home for the Crippled Blind,
And can whip five Yanks with a palmleaf hat,
Only the Yanks won’t fight like that. Continue reading
Tragic is the only word to describe the life of Vachel Lindsay. Perhaps the greatest of the poets of Illinois, he deserves his appellation the Prairie Troubador, his life was haunted by mental instability and money woes. He committed suicide at age 52 in 1931 by drinking a bottle of Lysol. His last words indicated the paranoia that beset him at the end: “They tried to get me; I got them first!”
A sad life, but a great talent. In 1914, anguished by the outbreak of World War I, he wrote this haunting homage to Lincoln: Continue reading
Like flowery fields the nations stand
Pleased with the morning light;
The flowers beneath the mower’s hand
Lie withering ere ‘tis night.
Isaac Watts, Our God, Our Help in Ages Past
The twenty-ninth in my ongoing series examining the poetry of Rudyard Kipling. The other posts in the series may be read here, here , here , here, here , here, here, here, here, here, here, here , here, here, here , here, here, here , here, here, here , here, here , here , here, here, here and here.
Kipling will always be remembered as a British patriot and a lover of the British Empire. Both of those facts are true enough, although Kipling was not blind to the faults of his nation and its empire, but Kipling also had the ability, shared by some true great artists, to step momentarily outside his time and place to make some imperishable commentary on the human condition. Kipling did it in his poem Recessional, written on the occasion of Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee, which rather than a rah, rah celebration of Great Britain, envisages a time when the glory and power of Britain and its Empire will have passed, one with Nineveh and Tyre, and a stark warning for his British contemporaries to use the power they currently possessed responsibly, and prays to God for mercy upon them. This unexpected Jeremiad contains what I have always regarded as the most moving lines of poetry ever written by a secular poet:
The twenty-seventh in my ongoing series examining the poetry of Rudyard Kipling. The other posts in the series may be read here, here , here , here, here , here, here, here, here, here, here, here , here, here, here , here, here, here , here, here, here , here, here , here , here and here.
Two frequent targets of Kipling’s ire over the years was Kaiser Wilhelm, who Kipling viewed as a buffoon and a menace long before World War I, and anything that smacked of socialism. In the poem An Imperial Rescript (1890), Kipling got to attack both his bête noirs when the Kaiser unveiled a program of social reform to “help” working men. I rather think the Kaiser’s heart was in the right place on this occasion, even if his head was not. Kipling viewed the plan as rubbish since most men, the acolytes of Alfred. P Doolittle (see video above) excepted, work for the well-being of their families, a well-being that he thought governments would prove ill-equipped to preserve, and therefore they would work as hard as they were able for the wife and the kids. It is an arguable point, although Kipling’s view is directly contrary to what passes for the common wisdom of our day, which could mean that Kipling might very well be correct!
Now this is the tale of the Council the German Kaiser decreed, To ease the strong of their burden, to help the weak in their need, He sent a word to the peoples, who struggle, and pant, and sweat, That the straw might be counted fairly and the tally of bricks be set. The Lords of Their Hands assembled; from the East and the West they drew -- Baltimore, Lille, and Essen, Brummagem, Clyde, and Crewe. And some were black from the furnace, and some were brown from the soil, And some were blue from the dye-vat; but all were wearied of toil. And the young King said: -- "I have found it, the road to the rest ye seek: The strong shall wait for the weary, the hale shall halt for the weak: With the even tramp of an army where no man breaks from the line, Ye shall march to peace and plenty in the bond of brotherhood -- sign!" Continue reading
But because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold, not hot, I will begin to vomit thee out of my mouth.
The twenty-sixth in my ongoing series examining the poetry of Rudyard Kipling. The other posts in the series may be read here, here , here , here, here , here, here, here, here, here, here, here , here, here, here , here, here, here , here, here, here , here, here , here and here. For a man who was not conventionally religious, it is surprising how many of Kipling’s poems deal with religious themes. Here he deals with the fate of the soul of Tomlinson who floated through life and did almost no good and almost no ill. He fits to the full T.S. Eliot’s hollow men and CS Lewis’s chestless men.
CS Lewis in his essay Screwtape Proposes a Toast in 1959 tells us how common this type of individual is in the modern world:
Your dreaded Principal has included in a speech full of points something like an apology for the banquet which he has set before us. Well, gentledevils, no one blames him. But it would be in vain to deny that the human souls on whose anguish we have been feasting tonight were of pretty poor quality. Not all the most skillful cookery of our tormentors could make them better than insipid.
Oh, to get one’s teeth again into a Farinata, a Henry VIII, or even a Hitler! There was real crackling there; something to crunch; a rage, an egotism, a cruelty only just less robust than our own. It put up a delicious resistance to being devoured. It warmed your inwards when you’d got it down.
Instead of this, what have we had tonight? There was a municipal authority with Graft sauce. But personally I could not detect in him the flavour of a really passionate and brutal avarice such as delighted one in the great tycoons of the last century. Was he not unmistakably a Little Man — a creature of the petty rake-off pocketed with a petty joke in private and denied with the stalest platitudes in his public utterances — a grubby little nonentity who had drifted into corruption, only just realizing that he was corrupt, and chiefly because everyone else did it? Then there was the lukewarm Casserole of Adulterers. Could you find in it any trace of a fully inflamed, defiant, rebellious, insatiable lust? I couldn’t. They all tasted to me like undersexed morons who had blundered or trickled into the wrong beds in automatic response to sexy advertisements, or to make themselves feel modern and emancipated, or to reassure themselves about their virility or their “normalcy,” or even because they had nothing else to do. Frankly, to me who have tasted Messalina and Cassanova, they were nauseating. The Trade Unionist stuffed with sedition was perhaps a shade better. He had done some real harm. He had, not quite unknowingly, worked for bloodshed, famine, and the extinction of liberty. Yes, in a way. But what a way! He thought of those ultimate objectives so little. Toeing the party line, self-importance, and above all mere routine, were what really dominated his life.
And then the triumph. We are tempted to say that such souls — or such residual puddles of what once was soul — are hardly worth damning. Yes, but the Enemy (for whatever inscrutable and perverse reason) thought them worth trying to save. Believe me, He did. You youngsters who have not yet been on active duty have no idea with what labour, with what delicate skill, each of these miserable creatures was finally captured.
The difficulty lay in their very smallness and flabbiness. Here were vermin so muddled in mind, so passively responsive to environment, that it was very hard to raise them to that level of clarity and deliberateness at which mortal sin becomes possible. To raise them just enough; but not that fatal millimetre of “too much.” For then, of course, all would possibly have been lost. They might have seen; they might have repented. On the other hand, if they had been raised too little, they would very possibly have qualified for Limbo, as creatures suitable neither for Heaven nor for Hell; things that, having failed to make the grade, are allowed to sink into a more or less contented subhumanity forever.
Kipling wrote Tomlinson in 1891 and unfortunately his Tomlinson was a forerunner of a type all too common today. God did not bring us into this world so we could spend our days in indifference and ennui, wasting both our time and our lives. The poem has a comedic tone, but I have always regarded it as perhaps Kipling’s most damning indictment of his time and ours.
Now Tomlinson gave up the ghost in his house in Berkeley Square,
And a Spirit came to his bedside and gripped him by the hair —
A Spirit gripped him by the hair and carried him far away,
Till he heard as the roar of a rain-fed ford the roar of the Milky Way:
Till he heard the roar of the Milky Way die down and drone and cease,
And they came to the Gate within the Wall where Peter holds the keys. Continue reading
(Reposted from 2012.)
He leads for aye the advance,
Hope’s forlorn-hopes that plant the desperate good
For nobler Earths and days of manlier mood;
James Russell Lowell
Memoriae Positum, memory laid down. The Latin phrase is a good short hand description of what History accomplishes. In 1864 the poet James Russell Lowell wrote a poem entitled Memoriae Positum in tribute to Colonel Robert Gould Shaw who died heroically at age 25 leading the unsuccessful assault of the 54th Massachusetts, one of the first black Union regiments, on the Confederate stronghold of Fort Wagner at Charleston, South Carolina on July 18th, 1863. The poem predicts that Shaw’s memory will live forever and feels sorrow only for those, unlike Shaw, who are unwilling or unable to risk all for their beliefs. It is a poem completely out of step with the predominant sentiments of our day which seem to value physical survival and enjoyment above everything else. Here is the text of the poem: Continue reading
The twenty-fifth in my ongoing series examining the poetry of Rudyard Kipling. The other posts in the series may be read here, here , here , here, here , here, here, here, here, here, here, here , here, here, here , here, here, here , here, here, here , here, here and here. Kipling often wrote in his poems about the British Army and celebrated the courage and endurance of the average British soldier. However, he never romanticized war, viewing it as a dirty, albeit often necessary, business. Few poems have better illustrated the endless tedium and ennui of war better than the poem Boots written in 1903 after the Boer War had concluded. The use of repetition in the poem skillfully conveys an endless and exhausting march. Ironically, it was set to music and a poem about the tedium of military service became a music hall favorite. Continue reading
The twenty-fourth in my ongoing series examining the poetry of Rudyard Kipling. The other posts in the series may be read here, here , here , here, here , here, here, here, here, here, here, here , here, here, here , here, here, here , here, here, here , here and here. Published in 1918, Hail Liberty! Hail! is a translation by Rudyard Kipling, of the first few stanzas of the poem that is the basis of the Greek National Anthem. It was written by him at the request of the Greek Ambassador to England D. Kaklamanos.
The original poem consisted of 158 stanzas written by Dionysios Solomos in 1823 during the Greek War of Independence.
Abandoning its neutrality, Greece had entered World War I on the side of the Allies in 1917. Conflict between Greeks favoring neutrality, led by King Constantine, and those favoring Allied intervention led by Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos. Eventually the forces favoring intervention won out, and King Constantine was forced to abdicate in favor of his son King Alexander. This all turned out to be disastrous after the War as Venizelos, a Cretan by birth, was a strong proponent of the Big (Megale) Idea which proposed Greek control of the regions in Asia Minor along the Mediterranean Sea that had Greek majorities. After the War the Greeks seized Smyrna in Asia Minor which led to the disastrous, for Greece, Greco-Turkish War of 1919-1922. The Greeks were resoundingly defeated by the Turks under Kemal Ataturk, and 1.5 million Greeks were expelled from lands in Asia Minor that they had occupied since the beginnings of Greek recorded history. A half million Turks and muslim Greeks were expelled from a Greece that they had lived in for almost half a millenium. The sentiments of the poem are quite high minded, but it serves as an example that high minded sentiments are not a substitute for wisdom in governmental policy.
WE knew thee of old,
Oh divinely restored,
By the light of thine eyes
And the light of thy Sword.
From the graves of our slain
Shall thy valour prevail
As we greet thee again—
Hail, Liberty! Hail!
Long time didst thou dwell
Mid the peoples that mourn,
Awaiting some voice
That should bid thee return.
Ah, slow broke that day
And no man dared call,
For the shadow of tyranny
Lay over all:
And we saw thee sad-eyed,
The tears on thy cheeks
While thy raiment was dyed
In the blood of the Greeks.
Yet, behold now thy sons
With impetuous breath
Go forth to the fight
Seeking Freedom or Death.
From the graves of our slain
Shall thy valour prevail
As we greet thee again
Hail, Liberty! Hail! Continue reading
The twenty-third in my ongoing series examining the poetry of Rudyard Kipling. The other posts in the series may be read here, here , here , here, here , here, here, here, here, here, here, here , here, here, here , here, here, here , here, here, here and here. In his poems Kipling was fond of the theme of education. In several poems he tied in education with another great theme of his poetry, the British Army, Kipling being fascinated by the rough and ready process by which soldiers learned how to be soldiers.
One feature of the British Army that has helped make it such a formidable force over the centuries is the pride in regimental history taken by officers and men. In the poem The Men That Fought at Minden a sergeant, or perhaps a corporal, is using the battle of Minden as an example to tell new recruits what to expect as they learn how to be soldiers.
On August 1, 1759 an Anglo-German army won a striking victory over a larger French army at the battle of Minden in Germany. The victory was one of the numerous victories won by the British in 1759, the Annus Mirabilis, which included the taking of Quebec. The following British regiments fought at Minden and are known as Minden regiments: 12th of Foot, 20th Foot, 23rd of Foot, 25th of Foot, 37th of Foot and 51st Foot. Minden Day is still observed on August 1, when the men of these regiments wear roses in their caps. Lord George Sackville was cashiered from the British Army due to cowardice that day. As Lord George Germain he would serve as George III’s Secretary of State during the American Revolution, contributing greatly to the British loss in that War. The Marquis de Lafayette’s father died at the battle, and sparked in Lafayette a strong desire for revenge on the British that he brought to fruition in the aid that he brought to the American cause in the Revolution. Continue reading
The twenty-first in my ongoing series examining the poetry of Rudyard Kipling. The other posts in the series may be read here, here , here , here, here , here, here, here, here, here, here, here , here, here, here , here, here, here , here and here. Kipling throughout his literary career had two great loves: his love for England and his love for the British Army that guarded England. A variant on these two themes is displayed in The Roman Centurion’s Song which Kipling wrote for A Child’s History of England in 1911. This is the lament of a Roman Centurion who has served forty years in Britannia. His cohort, circa 300 AD, has been ordered back to Rome and the Centurion does not want to go. After forty years Britannia has become his home and he wishes to stay.
Kipling once famously wrote in his poem The ‘Eathen, that the backbone of an army is the non-commissioned man. That was certainly the case with the Roman Legions. The centurions were an interesting combination of sergeant major and captain. They were long service men, almost all risen from the ranks. They normally commanded 60-80 men, although senior centurions, at the discretion of the Legate in charge of the Legion, could command up to a cohort, 500-1,000 men. Each centurion had a place in the chain of command with the primus pilus being the head centurion of a legion. The military tribunes and legates who led the legions were Roman aristocrats, most of whose military experience was much less than the centurions under them. If they were wise, they left the day to day management of their legion up to the centurions and paid heed to their advice in combat situations. In the contemporary histories that have come down to us, the centurions are normally treated with great respect. This is reflected in the movie Spartacus where Senator Gracchus notes that if the Senate punished every commander who ever made a fool of himself, there would be no one left in the Legions above the rank of centurion.
It was not uncommon for centurions to become quite fond of the people and the foreign lands they were stationed in for lengthy periods. We see this with the Centurion Cornelius and his encounter with Peter described in Acts 10:
 And there was a certain man in Caesarea, named Cornelius, a centurion of that which is called the Italian band;  A religious man, and fearing God with all his house, giving much alms to the people, and always praying to God.  This man saw in a vision manifestly, about the ninth hour of the day, an angel of God coming in unto him, and saying to him: Cornelius.  And he, beholding him, being seized with fear, said: What is it, Lord? And he said to him: Thy prayers and thy alms are ascended for a memorial in the sight of God.  And now send men to Joppe, and call hither one Simon, who is surnamed Peter: Continue reading
C’est magnifique, mais ce n’est pas la guerre! (It is magnificent but it is not war!)
Comment of French Mashal Pierre Bosquet on the charge of the light brigade
The nineteenth in my ongoing series examining the poetry of Rudyard Kipling. The other posts in the series may be read here, here , here , here, here , here, here, here, here, here, here, here , here, here, here , here, here and here. Kipling throughout his career always had a soft spot in his heart for the common British soldier. Soldiers in Kipling’s youth were regarded at worst as common criminals and at best a necessary evil: to be cheered as heroes in time of peril and left to rot in penury in peace time when they were too old to serve. By his poems pointing out the rank ingratitude of this treatment meted out to men who fought for Queen and country, Kipling played a large role in changing civilian attitudes toward the military and improving the lives of the “Tommys”.
One of his most searing poems on this subject was The Last of the Light Brigade.
The British have produced some of the great captains of History, Marlborough and Wellington quickly come to mind. However, a more common theme in British military history is the courage of common soldiers redeeming with their blood the mistakes of their generals. Few conflicts better exemplify this than the Crimean War. Fought between 1853-1856, the war consisted of France, Great Britain, the Ottoman Empire and the Kingdom of Sardinia (prior to it growing to encompass all Italy) against Russia. The causes of the war boiled down to the fact that the Ottoman Empire was in a state of rapid decay and France and Russia were squabbling about which power would have predominance as “protecting power” of the Holy Places in the Holy Land, with the traditional antipathy of Catholics and Orthodox lending fuel to the fire. This fairly meaningless squabble eventually led to war between the Ottoman Empire and Russia with Great Britain and France rallying to The Sick Man of Europe as the Turks were called. Continue reading