Verse > Rudyard Kipling > Verse: 1885–1918
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CONTENTS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
Rudyard Kipling (1865–1936).  Verse: 1885–1918.  1922.
 
Epitaphs of the War
 
“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
        5
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.
 
EX-CLERK
          Pity not! The Army gave
          Freedom to a timid slave:        10
          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:        15
          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?        20
 
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.
 
SHOCK
    My name, my speech, my self I had forgot.
        25
    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.        30
 
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!
 
THE FAVOUR
Death favoured me from the first, well knowing I could not endure
        35
  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.        40
                (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        45
    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.        50
 
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
        55
    To escape conscription. It was in the air!
 
THE SLEEPY SENTINEL
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.        60
 
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:
        65
            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?        70
 
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        75
      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.        80
    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        85
              Did I sacrifice.
            Though my darkness did not lift,
              Though I faced no lighter odds,
            Though the Gods bestowed no gift,
                        None the less,        90
              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 clamorous breath not new to the eye-pecking gulls.        95
 
DESTROYERS 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
        100
              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.        105
        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        110
    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.        115
        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,        120
              In other arms I rest.
 
            For this more ancient bride
              Whom coldly I embrace
            Was constant at my side
              Before I saw thy face.        125
 
            Our marriage, often set—
              By miracle delayed—
            At last is consummate,
              And cannot be unmade.
 
            Live, then, whom Life shall cure,        130
              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 Ægean rocks between, this little virgin drowned,        135
Whom neither spouse nor child shall mourn, but men she nursed through pain
And—certain keels for whose return the heathen look in vain.
 
 
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