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Epitaphs Of The War Rudyard Kipling Analysis Essay

“equality of sacrifice”

A. “I was a Have.”   B. “I was a ‘have-not.’” 

(Together). “What hast thou given which I gave not?” 

a servant

We were together since the War began. 

He was my servant—and the better man.

a son

My son was killed while laughing at some jest.    I would I knew 

What it was, and it might serve me in a time when jests are few.

an only son

I have slain none except my Mother.    She 

(Blessing her slayer) died of grief for me.


Pity not!    The Army gave 

Freedom to a timid slave: 

In which Freedom did he find 

Strength of body, will, and mind: 

By which strength he came to prove 

Mirth, Companionship, and Love: 

For which Love to Death he went: 

In which Death he lies content.

the wonder

Body and Spirit I surrendered whole 

To harsh Instructors—and received a soul . . . 

If mortal man could change me through and through 

From all I was—what may The God not do?

hindu sepoy in france

This man in his own country prayed we know not to what Powers. 

We pray Them to reward him for his bravery in ours.

the coward

I could not look on Death, which being known, 

Men led me to him, blindfold and alone.


My name, my speech, my self I had forgot. 

My wife and children came—I knew them not. 

I died.    My Mother followed.    At her call 

And on her bosom I remembered all.

a grave near cairo

Gods of the Nile, should this stout fellow here 

Get out—get out!    He knows not shame nor fear.

pelicans in the wilderness

A Grave near Halfa

The blown sand heaps on me, that none may learn 

    Where I am laid for whom my children grieve . . . 

O wings that beat at dawning, ye return 

    Out of the desert to your young at eve!

two canadian memorials


We giving all gained all.

    Neither lament us nor praise.

Only in all things recall,

    It is Fear, not Death that slays.


From little towns in a far land we came,

    To save our honour and a world aflame.

By little towns in a far land we sleep;

    And trust that world we won for you to keep!

the favour

Death favoured me from the first, well knowing I could not endure 

    To wait on him day by day.    He quitted my betters and came 

Whistling over the fields, and, when he had made all sure, 

    “Thy line is at end,” he said, “but at least I have saved its name.”

the beginner

On the first hour of my first day 

    In the front trench I fell. 

(Children in boxes at a play

    Stand up to watch it well.)

r.a.f. (aged eighteen)

Laughing through clouds, his milk-teeth still unshed, 

Cities and men he smote from overhead. 

His deaths delivered, he returned to play 

Childlike, with childish things now put away.

the refined man

I was of delicate mind.    I stepped aside for my needs, 

    Disdaining the common office.    I was seen from afar and killed . . . 

How is this matter for mirth?    Let each man be judged by his deeds. 

 I have paid my price to live with myself on the terms that I willed.

native water-carrier (m.e.f.)

Prometheus brought down fire to men,

    This brought up water. 

The Gods are jealous—now, as then, 

    Giving no quarter.

bombed in london

On land and sea I strove with anxious care 

To escape conscription.    It was in the air!

the sleepy sentinal

Faithless the watch that I kept: now I have none to keep. 

I was slain because I slept: now I am slain I sleep. 

Let no man reproach me again, whatever watch is unkept— 

I sleep because I am slain.    They slew me because I slept.

batteries out of ammunition

If any mourn us in the workshop, say 

We died because the shift kept holiday.

common form

If any question why we died, 

Tell them, because our fathers lied.

a dead statesman

I could not dig: I dared not rob: 

Therefore I lied to please the mob. 

Now all my lies are proved untrue 

And I must face the men I slew. 

What tale shall serve me here among 

Mine angry and defrauded young?

the rebel

If I had clamoured at Thy Gate 

    For gift of Life on Earth, 

And, thrusting through the souls that wait, 

    Flung headlong into birth— 

Even then, even then, for gin and snare 

    About my pathway spread, 

Lord, I had mocked Thy thoughtful care 

    Before I joined the Dead! 

But now? . . . I was beneath Thy Hand 

    Ere yet the Planets came. 

And now—though Planets pass, I stand 

    The witness to Thy shame!

the obedient

Daily, though no ears attended, 

    Did my prayers arise. 

Daily, though no fire descended, 

    Did I sacrifice. 

Though my darkness did not lift, 

    Though I faced no lighter odds, 

Though the Gods bestowed no gift, 

                    None the less, 

    None the less, I served the Gods!

a drifter off tarentum

He from the wind-bitten North with ship and companions descended, 

    Searching for eggs of death spawned by invisible hulls. 

Many he found and drew forth.    Of a sudden the fishery ended 

    In flame and a clamours breath known to the eye-pecking gulls.

destroyer in collision

For Fog and Fate no charm is found 

    To lighten or amend. 

I, hurrying to my bride, was drowned— 

    Cut down by my best friend.

convoy escort

I was a shepherd to fools 

    Causelessly bold or afraid. 

They would not abide by my rules. 

    Yet they escaped.    For I stayed.

unknown female corpse

Headless, lacking foot and hand, 

Horrible I come to land. 

I beseech all women’s sons 

Know I was a mother once.

raped and revenged

One used and butchered me: another spied 

Me broken—for which thing an hundred died. 

So it was learned among the heathen hosts 

How much a freeborn woman’s favour costs.

salonikan grave

I have watched a thousand days 

Push out and crawl into night 

Slowly as tortoises. 

Now I, too, follow these. 

It is fever, and not the fight— 

Time, not battle,—that slays.

the bridegroom

Call me not false, beloved, 

    If, from thy scarce-known breast 

So little time removed, 

    In other arms I rest. 

For this more ancient bride, 

    Whom coldly I embrace, 

Was constant at my side 

    Before I saw thy face. 

Our marriage, often set— 

    By miracle delayed— 

At last is consummate, 

    And cannot be unmade. 

Live, then, whom Life shall cure, 

    Almost, of Memory, 

And leave us to endure 

    Its immortality.

v.a.d. (mediterranean)

Ah, would swift ships had never been, for then we ne’er had found, 

These harsh Aegean rocks between, this little virgin drowned, 

Whom neither spouse nor child shall mourn, but men she nursed through pain 

And—certain keels for whose return the heathen look in vain.


On a Memorial Tablet in Holy Trinity Church,


We counterfeited once for your disport

    Men's joy and sorrow: but our day has passed.

We pray you pardon all where we fell short—

    Seeing we were your servants to this last.


On a Panel in the Hall of the Institute of Journalists

We have served our day.

Rudyard Kipling: 'Bringing the Victorian age intact into the 20th century'. Photograph: EO Hoppe/Getty

Rudyard Kipling, 1865-1936, wrote around 600 poems. Many of the best known are war poems, though not in any usual sense of the term. They neither glorify war nor condemn it. They appear to be driven simply by the desire to give a voice and dignity to the "common soldier".

First as a child in the Bombay of the British Raj, and later as a young newspaper man there, Kipling observed army life first-hand, though he was barred from active service because of poor eye sight. He knew the cost of war, and that "Tommy Atkins" (whatever his nationality) paid much of the bill.

This working-class English name - Thomas Atkins in full - was used generically on specimen Army forms, and, for Kipling, expresses both the private soldier's anonymity and his true worth. "I have made for you a song / And it may be right or wrong / But only you can tell me if it's true," begins the dedicatory poem of Barrack Room Ballads.

Writing in a Cockney dialect which presumably was entirely unlike his own spoken English, he versifies this voice effortlessly, and rarely seems to be putting words in Tommy's mouth, though some readers might baulk initially at the exaggerated effects of those Dickensian phonetic spellings, for example: ''an we'll follow 'im to 'ell./ Won't we, Bobs?"

At the outbreak of the Great War, Kipling's son, John, also failed his army medical examination on account of short-sightedness. Rudyard, now at the height of his literary success, pulled rank, and ensured the boy was accepted for a commission in the Irish Guards. Aged 18, John perished in the Battle of Loos.

In Kipling's sequence, Epitaphs of the War, there is an extraordinary couplet, Common Form:

If any question why we died, Tell them, because our fathers lied.

Kipling speaks here in the voices of the slain, the "angry and defrauded young" as he called them in another "epitaph". It brings to mind Wilfred Owen and his scorn for the "old lie": "Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori" ("It is sweet and honourable to die for the Fatherland").

Probably nothing else he wrote is as simply, bluntly angry as that couplet. This week's poem, The Children, is far more complex. There is no suggestion here that the enemy should be forgiven, or that the war, despite its appalling miscalculations, should not have been fought. The speaker demands expiation, while knowing that none will ever be adequate.

It encapsulates Kipling's terrible grief for his son (and perhaps also for his adored daughter, Josephine, who had earlier died of pneumonia), and yet the refrain becomes a chorus that speaks almost impersonally for all parents bereaved by war.

The last stanza, with its images of decay and senseless mutilation, is especially powerful. This stanza tells the unspeakable truth: John's body was not found until the end of the conflict, when the war graves commission, on which Kipling served, perhaps, as his own "expiation", discovered some remains thought to be John Kipling's.

Kipling's reputation has not yet emerged from charges of racism and imperialism. The defence is well put in this essay by John Derbyshire.

Setting anachronistic moral judgements apart, Kipling remains a fascinating poet, who seems to bring the Victorian age intact into the 20th century. His formal skills never lured him into modernist experiment. And yet he is radical in his subject matter - who else would have thought of dramatising the plight of the survivors of the charge of the light brigade?:

"No thank you we don't want food, sir; but couldn't you take an' write A sort-of 'to be continued' and 'see next page' o' the fight? We think that someone has blundered, and couldn't you tell 'em how? You thought we was heroes once, sir. Please, write we are starving now."

Good though the dialect poems are, The Children is unique, a war poem strengthened by a voice that is identifiable with the writer's own. It requires no persona, no special idiom - simply the courage to face facts (a courage Kipling never lacked), and find plain words and a rolling, liturgical, rhyme-packed rhythm for its expression.

The Children

('The Honours of War' - A Diversity of Creatures)

These were our children who died for our lands; they were dear in our sight. We have only the memory left of their home-treasured sayings and laughter. The price of our loss shall be paid to our hands, but not to another's hereafter. Neither Alien nor Priest shall decide on it. That is our right. But who shall return us the children?

At the hour the barbarian chose to disclose his pretences, And raged against Man, they engaged, on the breasts that they bared for us, The first felon-stroke of the sword he had long-time prepared for us - Their bodies were all our defence while we wrought our defences.

They brought us anew with their blood, forbearing to blame us. Those hours which we had not made good when the judgement o'ercame us. They believed us and perished for it. Our statecraft, our learning Delivered them bound to the Pit and alive to the burning Whither they mirthfully hastened as jostling for honour - Not since her birth has our Earth seen such worth loosed upon her.

Nor was their agony brief, or once only imposed on them. The wounded, the war-spent, the sick received no exemption: Being cured, they returned and endured and achieved our redemption. Hopeless themselves of relief, till death, marvelling, closed on them.

That flesh we had nursed from the first in all cleanness was given To corruption unveiled and assailed by the malice of Heaven - By the heart-shaking jests of Decay where it lolled on the wires - To be blanched or gay-painted by fumes - to be cindered by fires - To be senselessly tossed and re-tossed in stale mutilation From crater to crater. For this we shall take expiation. But who shall return us our children?

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