Recessional (poem)

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Queen Victoria 1897

"Recessional" is a poem by Rudyard Kipling, which he composed for the occasion of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in 1897.


Indian Cavalry passing the Houses of Parliament, 22 June, 1897

“Recessional” contains five stanzas of six lines each. A.W. Yates sees comparisons of form and phrase in Thomas Wyatt's "Forget not yet".[1] As a recessional is a hymn or piece of music that is sung or played at the end of a religious service, in some respects the title dictates the form of the poem, which is that of a traditional English hymn.

Initially, Kipling had not intended to write a poem for the Jubilee. It was written and published only towards the close of the Jubilee celebrations, and represents a comment on them, an afterword. The poem was first published in The Times on July 17 1897. [2]

The poem went against the celebratory mood of the time, providing instead a reminder of the transient nature of British Imperial power.[3] The poem expresses both pride in the British Empire, but also an underlying sadness that the Empire might go the way of all previous empires. "The title and its allusion to an end rather than a beginning add solemnity and gravitas to Kipling's message."[4] In the poem, Kipling argues that boasting and jingoism, faults of which he was often accused, were inappropriate and vain in light of the permanence of God.

The text[edit]

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-
Thy Mercy on Thy People, Lord![5]

Biblical references[edit]

While not particularly religious himself, Kipling understood the value of sacred traditions and processions in English history. As a poet, he drew on the language of the Authorised Version of the Bible, familiar to most of his English-speaking readers, in order to reach a deeper level of response.[2]

The phrase "lest we forget" forms the refrain of "Recessional". It is taken from Deuteronomy 6,12: "Then beware lest thou forget the Lord which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt".[2] The reference to the "ancient sacrifice" as a "humble and a contrite heart" is taken from the Miserere.[6]


After its initial publication, "Recessional" was reprinted in The Spectator, on July 24, 1897. Kipling had previously composed his more famous poem "The White Man's Burden" for Victoria's jubilee, but replaced it with "Recessional". "Burden" was published two years later, modified to fit the theme of the American expansion after the Spanish–American War.[7]

In Australia[8] and New Zealand[9] "Recessional" is sung as a hymn on Anzac Day, to the tune "Melita" ("Eternal Father, Strong to Save").

The Anglican Church of Canada adopted "Recessional" as a hymn[10] and a unique musical version of the hymn is included in the 1985 hymnal of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.[11]


  1. ^ Yeats, A. W. "The Genesis Of 'The Recessional'", The University of Texas Studies in English 31 (1952): 97-108
  2. ^ a b c Hamer, Mary. "Recessional", The Kipling Society
  3. ^ Scott, Mary (January 24, 2008). "Recessional - Notes by Mary Hammer". The New Readers' Guide to the works of Rudyard Kipling. Retrieved April 15, 2012. 
  4. ^ "Rudyard Kipling's 'Recessional'", The Raab Collection
  5. ^
  6. ^ A.B.D., "Sources of Kipling's 'Recessional'", The New York Times, June 21, 1898
  7. ^ Greenblatt, Stephen (ed.) (2006). Norton Anthology of English Literature. New York: Norton. ISBN 0-393-92532-3.
  8. ^ "The Recessional". The Australian War Memorial. Retrieved 2010-02-15. 
  9. ^ "The Ceremony – ANZAC Day". New Zealand History Online. Retrieved 2010-02-15. 
  10. ^ The Book of Common Praise, No. 316
  11. ^ "God of Our Fathers, Known of Old", hymn #80, Hymns of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City, Utah: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1985).

External links[edit]