Special Sub-Topic: Kipling's British History
| "The Roman Centurion's Song" is set in Britain in AD 410, when the Roman legions were recalled from this remote province to defend Italy and Rome itself.
Legate, I heard the news last night - my cohort ordered home
By ship to Portus Itius and thence by road to Rome.
I've marched the companies aboard; the arms are stowed below;
Now let another take my sword ________________________.
Complete the last line.
Command me not to go. The plight of the centurion ("I've served in Britain forty years. What should I do in Rome?") mirrors that of some Britons in Kipling's imperial days. Many British settlers were undoubtedly intent on getting rich and then getting out, but there were others (especially, perhaps, in India) who came to love their adopted country, its customs and its people, and to feel more at home there than in a rapidly changing Britain which they rarely saw. Hence the centurion pleads to be allowed to live out what is left of his life in the only land that he can call home. Portus Itius, by the way, is Boulogne.
|What event in English history is commemorated in the poem "The Reeds of Runnymede"?|
The granting of Magna Carta by King John . Kipling's is the conventional view of Magna Carta as the foundation of English liberties. The charter was sealed at Runnymede in 1215.
|The sight of steel would blanch his cheek,
the smell of baccy drive him frantic.
He was the author of his line.
He wrote that witches should be burnt;
He wrote that monarchs were divine,
And left a son who proved they weren't!
Which British king does this poem deal with?
James VI of Scotland & I of England. James was one of the first to attack the habit of smoking in his "Counterblast to Tobacco." His other writings included "Demonologie," arguing for the reality of witchcraft, and he probably wrote "The True Law of Free Monarchies," setting out the doctrine of the divine right of kings. His son, Charles I, was beheaded in 1649.
|If wars were won by feasting
Or victory by song,
Or safety found by sleeping sound,
How England would be strong!
But honour and dominion
Are not maintainèd so:
They're only got by sword and shot,
And this the ______________ know!
This poem is set in the 1660s. What word is missing from the last line?
Dutchmen. Commercial and colonial rivalry between the British and the Dutch led to naval wars in 1652-54, 1665-67 and 1672-74. In the end they were indecisive, but in the 1660s the Dutch sailed up the Thames and Medway and burned British ships at their moorings. Thanks to corruption and mismanagement in government, the British could not repel the attacks.
|At Blenheim and Ramillies fops would confess
They were pierced to the heart by the charms of Brown Bess.
Who or what was Brown Bess?
A musket. "Brown Bess" was the nickname given to the musket used by British troops in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Besides the battles of Blenheim and Ramillies in the War of the Spanish Succession, the poem also commemorates the musket-toting Britons' triumphs in India, Canada and the Napoleonic Wars: somehow the American Revolution is overlooked.
|A tinker out of Bedford, a vagrant oft in quod,
A private under Fairfax, a minister of God -
Two hundred years and thirty ere Armageddon came,
His single hand portrayed it, and _________ was his name!
This is the first stanza of "The Holy War": what name is missing from the last line?
Bunyan. "The Holy War" was John Bunyan's last major work. Like his better known "Pilgrim's Progress," it is an allegory: it tells of the war between Emmanuel (Christ) and Diabolus (the Devil) for the city of Mansoul. Kipling, writing his poem in 1917, saw World War I as a holy war and Bunyan's work as prophetic.
|"How far is St Helena from a little child at play?" Whose career is sketched out in "A St Helena Lullaby"?|
Napoleon Bonaparte. The "lullaby" portrays Napoleon's seemingly insatiable ambition and his rise and fall. "How far is St Helena from a fight in Paris street?" "How far is St Helena from the field of Austerlitz?" "How far is St Helena from an Emperor of France?" "How far is St Helena from the capes of Trafalgar?" "How far is St Helena from the Beresina ice?". "How far is St Helena from the field of Waterloo?" "How far from St Helena to the gate of Heaven's grace?"
|Here's to you, Fuzzy-Wuzzy, with your hayrick head of hair -
You big black bounding beggar - for you broke a British square!
Where did the "Fuzzy-Wuzzies" embarrass the British army?
Sudan. It's difficult for many of us to read poems like "Fuzzy-Wuzzy" or "Gunga Din" today: they strike us as, to say the very least, patronizing and insensitive. None the less, Kipling's admiration for the Sudanese is genuine and heartfelt. The early success of the Sudanese supporters of the Mahdi in the 1880s was a blow to British pride.
|"Then here's to Bobs Bahadur - little Bobs, Bobs, Bobs!" Which British military commander is the subject of "Bobs"?|
Field-Marshal Lord Roberts. Frederick Sleigh Roberts had a distinguished military career in India, Afghanistan and South Africa. Kipling's Cockney poem praises his firm but fair discipline, his strategic sense, his modesty and his concern for his troops.
|Which conflict inspired Kipling's poems "The Absent-Minded Beggar," "Stellenbosch" and "The Half-Ballade of Waterval"?|
The Boer War. "The Absent-Minded Beggar" was written to encourage the British public to contribute to a fund for the support of the families of British troops. The fund raised a quarter of a million pounds (nearly £20,000,000 in early 21st-century money). "Stellenbosch" attacks the incompetence of over-cautious commanders. Waterval was a Boer camp for British prisoners of war.
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