Hymn Before Action
Publication history and reception
The poem was inspired by the 1860 hymn The Church's One Foundation by Samuel John Stone. It was written and published in The Times at a time when news of the botched Jameson Raid of January 1896 reached Britain. Accordingly, it has been read as an expression of foreboding about increasing Great Power hostility to Britain – "The Nations in their harness / Go up against our path" – as a comment on filibustering and as an argument for responsible imperialism under God and the Law:
From panic, pride, and terror,
Revenge that knows no rein,
Light haste and lawless error,
Protect us yet again.
Published in Kipling's 1896 collection of poetry, The Seven Seas, the patriotic hymn was among the works that consolidated Kipling's reputation as "The Laureate of Empire". Roger Pocock, the founder of the Legion of Frontiersmen, did not appear to notice Kipling's complex vision of the imperial task when he praised the poem in a letter to Kipling as "the biggest thing you've written so far."
In 1930, an English choir drew some attention by refusing to sing the hymn on account of its "pagan character". The choir's secretary argued that it might be appropriate for "troops of savages bent on slaughter", but presented "a primitive, unworthy conception of the Deity".
The earth is full of anger,
For those who kneel beside us
Ah, Mary pierced with sorrow,
- MacDonald, Robert H. (1994). The language of empire: myths and metaphors of popular imperialism, 1880-1918. Manchester University Press. p. 169. ISBN 978-0-7190-3749-8.
- Boehmer, Elleke (2006). Colonial and postcolonial literature: migrant metaphors (2. ed.). Oxford University Press. p. 32. ISBN 978-0-19-925371-5.
- MacDonald, Robert H. (1994). The language of empire: myths and metaphors of popular imperialism, 1880-1918. Manchester University Press. p. 152. ISBN 978-0-7190-3749-8.
- Henderson, Archibald (1930). Contemporary immortals. Ayer Publishing. ISBN 978-0-8369-0533-5.
- Kipling, Rudyard (1896). The Seven Seas. London: Methuen. pp. 102–104.
- Various republications.