Recessional (poem)

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


The poem is a prayer. It describes two fates that befall even the most powerful people, armies and nations, and that threatened the British Empire at the time: passing out of existence, and lapsing from Christian faith into profanity. The prayer entreats God to spare "us" (the British Empire) from these fates, "lest we forget" the sacrifice of Christ.

The poem went against the celebratory mood of the time, providing instead a reminder of the transient nature of British Imperial power.[1] 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.

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.[2]

In Australia[3] and New Zealand[4] "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[5] and a unique musical version of the hymn is included in the 1985 hymnal of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.[6]

Lest we forget[edit]

The phrase "lest we forget" forms the refrain of "Recessional." It introduces the reason for the entreaty expressed in the poem: that God might spare the British Empire from oblivion or profanity, "lest we forget" the sacrifice of Christ ("Thine ancient sacrifice").

The phrase later passed into common usage after World War I across the British Commonwealth, especially becoming linked with Remembrance Day observations; it became a plea not to forget past sacrifices, and was often found as the only wording on war memorials,[7] or used as an epitaph.

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![8]


  1. ^ Scott, Mary (January 24, 2008). "Recessional - Notes by Mary Hammer". The New Readers' Guide to the works of Rudyard Kipling. Retrieved April 15, 2012. 
  2. ^ Greenblatt, Stephen (ed.) (2006). Norton Anthology of English Literature. New York: Norton. ISBN 0-393-92532-3.
  3. ^ "The Recessional". The Australian War Memorial. Retrieved 2010-02-15. 
  4. ^ "The Ceremony – ANZAC Day". New Zealand History Online. Retrieved 2010-02-15. 
  5. ^ The Book of Common Praise, No. 316
  6. ^ "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).
  7. ^ For example, the War memorial clock in the post office at Bangalow, New South Wales, the Memorial Clock Tower at Goomeri, Queensland, and the memorial clock tower at Pinnaroo, South Australia all have the twelve letters of "Lest We Forget" on the clock face, with L-E-S-T-W-E at 10, 11, 12, 1, 2, and 3 o'clock, in forward sequence, starting with the "F", and the letters F-O-R-G-E-T, in reverse sequence, at 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, and 4 o'clock—meaning that the top half of the clock immediately displays "Lest we", and the bottom half "Forget", to all viewers.
  8. ^