Wednesday, August 02, 2006

& the sun did set on the British Empire

"Do you like Kipling?" she asked

"I don't know," he replied. "I've never kipled."

Things come together, fall apart, are forgotten, are rejoined in another way when some intersection triggers memory.

I don't like Kipling (says he who has / never kipled). But I do like some Kipling. Put name to him through film, Kim. Errol Flynn / Dean Stockwell / Paul Lukas. Anonymous at junior Boy Scouts, patterned on the Jungle Book or the / Just So Stories / probably, possibly, read at the time. Anonymous also in the morning assemblies at secondary school, but emotion swelled as that thousand-boy-voice choir sang Recessional. Same tune as used for "for those in peril on the sea". But Kipling poem to go with Kipling prose. Put them together somewhat. Forgot them.

Read Kim. Enjoyed it. Am a sucker for 19th century stories about Afghanistan / The Himalayas / The Roof of the World. Check out Talbot Mundy if you get the chance, thirties author, sort of pulp, Theosophist. Wrote King of the Khyber Rifles, Om, the JimGrim series, Tros of Samophrace. Great ficciones.

Came back to Kipling again through film. John Huston's The Man who would be King, Michael Caine, Sean Connery. Forgot the writer, could recite the filmscripts. Watch the reruns. Cable only.

But. Invasion. Unwarranted. Bullshit pre-emptive. A couple of years ago. Recessional triggered off by a line, much used. Nineveh, in the dust, in the desert outside Mosul. & now, the other name used in that line Kipling wrote. In another bullshit-surrounded invasion & act of genocide. (I never knew blitzkreig was a Hebrew word.) Tyre.

A strange poem, Recessional. Full of all those Victorian concepts & conceits. Heathens & Gentiles & lesser breeds without the law. God. But, written on the 50th or 60th anniversary of Victoria's accession to the throne, at a time when "the sun never set on the British Empire". (& years later I would come across an atlas as a young boy, with the sun still in the sky & all those countries still in red.)

Yet this poem is about arrogance, about hubris, about the transient nature of power. Things the current armies of the night would do well to remember. It's bizarre when I read about or see on tv Bush &/or Olmert &/or their minions talking about terrorism. The words they use could equally – perhaps even more so - be applied to them. Just like this poem. Ambiguous.
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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