Epitaphs of the War

By Rudyard Kipling 1865–1936 Rudyard Kipling

1914-18

“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.


ex-clerk

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.


shock

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

i

We giving all gained all.
    Neither lament us nor praise.
Only in all things recall,
    It is Fear, not Death that slays.

ii

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 clamorous breath not new to the eye-pecking gulls.


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
    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.


actors
On a Memorial Tablet in Holy Trinity Church,
Stratford-on-Avon

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.


journalists
On a Panel in the Hall of the Institute of Journalists

We have served our day.

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Rudyard Kipling 1865–1936

POET’S REGION England

SCHOOL / PERIOD Victorian

Subjects Living, Sorrow & Grieving, Social Commentaries, War & Conflict, Death

Poetic Terms Elegy, Series/Sequence

 Rudyard  Kipling

Biography

Rudyard Kipling is one of the best-known of the late Victorian poets and story-tellers. Although he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1907, his unpopular political views caused his work to be neglected shortly after his death. Critics, however, recognize the power of his work. "His unrelenting craftsmanship, his determination to be 'master of the bricks and mortar of his trade,' compels respect, and his genius as a . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Sorrow & Grieving, Social Commentaries, War & Conflict, Death

POET’S REGION England

SCHOOL / PERIOD Victorian

Poetic Terms Elegy, Series/Sequence

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.