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Recessional -- Rudyard Kipling

Guest poem submitted by Vikram Doctor -
(Poem #151) 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 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 -
The Mercy on Thy People, Lord!
-- Rudyard Kipling
A poetic reminder from the news-stands. A recent issue of India Today
has a cover story about the martyrs of Kargil with the headline
emblazoned, "Lest We Forget". And in general, there has been a rash of
articles in the media which use the line. It's so much a part of our
collective memory that we often forget its source in Kipling's
"Recessional'. Which, particularly in this case, is a pity because the
source makes the quote all too appropriate - perhaps a bit more so than
the media, with its jingoistic views on the war, might wish.

I'm not much of a fan of Kipling's poetry. I love his prose - 'Kim' is
one of the greatest novels about India - and the imperialistic
sentiments in both his poetry and prose don't bother me. And I admire
the technical skill of his poetry, particularly his way with colour and
cadences. It just doesn't connect with me very much. But 'Recessional'
is an exception, though I'm not even sure I like the poem very much. The
religiosity for one leaves me a bit cold, though I do admit the power of
his plea to be humble before God is undeniable.

But the impact of the poem really comes from the context it was written
in. A context which seems to me to matter when soldiers are dying on the
heights of Kargil. No, this is not another reminder saying Zara Yaad
Karo Qurbani - to use The Times Of India's suspiciously slick slogan.
Quite the opposite, although I mean absolutely no disrespect for the
soldiers who died. As a patriotic Indian I acknowledge out debt for
their sacrifice. But... well, I admit to having some rather mixed
feelings.

For one, I have mixed feelings about why we are fighting this war and
who's to blame. But what I have VERY mixed feelings is about the sort of
attitudes the war is bringing out. I hate the jingoism thats been
stirred up, and the flag waving, and the lets-think-of-our-poor-soldiers
and all the Zara Yaad Karo Qurbani feelings. On the one hand, yes, being
patriotic I guess we should show out support for the country. But on the
other hand, exactly what is emoting away in our armchairs about the need
to support our soldiers going to achieve?"

Any kind of charity is to be encouraged, I guess, but I am rather
dubious about people who don't mind getting worked up about something as
long as its far away and doesn't really cost them much; don't we all
have more direct ways we can make a contribution to society? I'm dubious
at the way everyone is getting worked up about Kargil simply because
this is our first real media war - what about all those soldiers who
have been regularly dying on Siachen or in anti-insurgency operations in
Kashmir and Assam all these years? And I have nothing but distaste for
the way some marketers have jumped on to the Kargil band wagon to use it
as a way to promote their products.

So as I said, I have mixed feelings about this whole Kargil thing and
that's why this poem is so appropriate. Because "Recessional" is really
all about mixed feelings. Kipling wrote it at the most triumphal peak of
the British Empire - Queen Victoria's Jubilee in 1887 when the Empire
truly was the greatest power on the globe. The Jubilee was the obvious
occasion for celebrating this achievement, yet Kipling chose not to do
so. Instead he wrote this poem which warns vividly about the perils of
hubris and the transience of power. Watch out, Kipling warns the
revelers, none of this is lasting, nor does it matter.

And of course, he was right. The British Empire has vanished so
completely that today we can even lay claim to its icons - like cricket
which everyone now says belongs to the former possessions rather than
the home country. (Ironically, the one place where you could say the
influence lingers is in the borders and margins the Empire left, like
that between Pakistan and India). So when we see "Lest We Forget" being
blindly used as a call to patriotism and nationalism, its worth
remembering that Kipling really meant something much deeper.

Vikram.

PS: Something else has just occurred to me. The area where the war is
happening is one which is actually full of echoes of the Raj. The whole
'Roof Of The World' from Afghanistan to Tibet was the setting for the
long conflict between the British and the Russians and the indigenous
tribes that was known as the Great Game - which is partly what 'Kim' is
about. But it was also the setting for the First Afghan War in 1838 from
which only one British soldier returned. In Bombay's cantonment area,
which is full of activity for Kargil today, there's the silent shuttered
presence of Afghan Church which was built to commemorate this disaster.
I can't help thinking Kipling had stories like this in mind when he
looked at all the hype about the Jubilee and wrote his "Recessional".
And we should remember it as well, as another futile war is played out
in the same area.

154 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

SURENDRANATHC said...

I hope everyone will pardon me for bringing politics into this mailing
list. But, I could'nt just let these comments simply pass by.
I'd like to make a few points clear. This is not a war being fought out in
some far away country for reasons that make no sense to the common man.
This is a war being fought simply to get rid of intruders on territory
that belongs to us. These "mujahideen" had no business being there. And if
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it jingoism. It's just a question of protecting yourself. The army is
working in Kargil for one of its primary objectives, which is to safegaurd
the borders of the country. And another thing that is abundantly clear is
that the action on the borders is not any aggressive gesture. In fact,
both countries were in the midst of a process that would have improved
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But pacifism should not come in the way of self -defense. There is no way,
we could have resolved this problem without any bloodshed at all. In fact,
what this particular sequence of events has done is to throw light on the
absolutely senseless bloodshed and sheer waste of resources that both
countries have had to suffer because we cannot get our relations right
with our neighbour. I hope my mail helps to resolve whatever mixed
feelings anyone may have on the rightness of the action by the Indian
government and the Indian Army. If anyone still wishes to continue the
discussion, I only wish they will address the mail to me alone.

Jasa Penerjemah Tersumpah | Jasa Penerjemah | Penerjemah Resmi said...

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from Jacques Derrida's postmodernist playbook.) And yet we keep trying,
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