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The Earth and Its Peoples: A Global History, Second Edition
Richard W. Bulliet, Pamela Kyle Crossley, Daniel R. Headrick, Steven W. Hirsch, Lyman L. Johnson, David Northrup
Primary Sources

Introduction | Questions to Consider | Source

The "Poet Laureate of Empire" Issues a Word of Warning
Rudyard Kipling

In the poem "Recessional," written for Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in 1897, Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) sent a warning to his generation of ardent imperialists. Kipling, who had been born in India, has long been regarded as a staunch advocate of European imperialism. His "White Man's Burden" (1899), written for the American audience during the Spanish-American War, is one of the most elegant summations of the "civilizing mission" justification of imperialism, replete with overtones of racial superiority. His stories and novels inspired many a young Englishman to seek his fame and fortune in the far reaches of the British Empire. Thus, the cautionary message of "Recessional" is somewhat of a paradox.

Questions to Consider
  • What is Kipling warning his generation about?

  • Offer an explanation for the paradox of the "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 die--
The Captains and the Kings depart--
Still stands thine ancient sacrifice,
An humble and a contrite heart.
Lord God of Hosts,

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

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,

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!

Source: "Recessional," in Rudyard Kipling, Barrack Room Ballads: Recessional and Other Verse (New York: Robert McBride, 1910).

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