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Written for C.R.L. Fletcher's
"A History of England"
by Rudyard Kipling
- Twenty bridges from Tower to Kew--
- (Twenty bridges or twenty-two)--
- Wanted to know what the River knew,
- For they were young and the Thames was old,
- And this is the tale that the River told:--
- "I WALK my beat before London Town,
- Five hour up and seven down.
- Up I go till I end my run
- At Tide-end-town, which is Teddington.
- Down I come with the mud in my hands
- And plaster it over the Maplin Sands.
- But I'd have you know that these waters of mine
- Were once a branch of the River Rhine,
- When hundreds of miles to the East I went
- And England was joined to the Continent.
- "I remember the bat-winged lizard-birds,
- The Age of Ice and the mammoth herds,
- And the giant tigers that stalked them down
- Through Regent's Park into Camden Town.
- And I remember like yesterday
- The earliest Cockney who came my way,
- When he pushed through the forest that lined the Strand,
- With paint on his face and a club in his hand.
- He was death to feather and fin and fur.
- He trapped my beavers at Westminster.
- He netted my salmon, he hunted my deer,
- He killed my heron off Lambeth Pier.
- He fought his neighbour with axes and swords,
- Flint or bronze, at my upper fords,
- While down at Greenwich, for slaves and tin,
- The tall Phoenician ships stole in.
- And North Sea war-boats, painted and gay,
- Flashed like dragon-flies, Erith way;
- And Norseman and Negro and Gaul and Greek
- Drank with the Britons in Barking Creek,
- And life was gay, and the world was new,
- And I was a mile across at Kew!
- But the Roman came with a heavy hand,
- And bridged and roaded and ruled the land,
- And the Roman left and the Danes blew in--
- And that's where your history-books begin!"
Roman Occupation of Britain, A.D. 300
- LEGATE, I had the news last night--my cohort ordered home
- By ships 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. Command me not to go!
- I've served in Britain forty years, from Vectis to the Wall.
- I have none other home than this, nor any life at all.
- Last night I did not understand, but, now the hour draws near
- That calls me to my native land, I feel that land is here.
- Here where men say my name was made, here where my work was done;
- Here where my dearest dead are laid--my wife--my wife and son;
- Here where time, custom, grief and toil, age, memory, service, love,
- Have rooted me in British soil. Ah, how can I remove?
- For me this land, that sea, these airs, those folk and fields suffice.
- What purple Southern pomp can match our changeful Northern skies,
- Black with December snows unshed or pearled with August haze--
- The clanging arch of steel-grey March, or June's long-lighted days?
- You'll follow widening Rodanus till vine and olive lean
- Aslant before the sunny breeze that sweeps Nemausus clean
- To Arelate's triple gate: but let me linger on,
- Here where our stiff-necked British oaks confront Euroclydon!
- You'll take the old Aurelian Road through shore-descending pines
- Where, blue as any peacock's neck, the Tyrrhene Ocean shines.
- You'll go where laurel crowns are won, but--will you e'er forget
- The scent of hawthorn in the sun, or bracken in the wet?
- Let me work here for Britain's sake--at any task you will--
- A marsh to drain, a road to make or native troops to drill.
- Some Western camp (I know the Pict) or granite Border keep,
- Mid seas of heather derelict, where our old messmates sleep.
- Legate, I come to you in tears--My cohort ordered home!
- I've served in Britain forty years. What should I do in Rome?
- Here is my heart, my soul, my mind--the only life I know,
- I cannot leave it all behind. Command me not to go!
Saxon Invasion, A.D. 400-600
- WHEN Rome was rotten-ripe to her fall,
- And the sceptre passed from her hand,
- The pestilent Picts leaped over the wall
- To harry the English land.
- The little dark men of the mountain and waste,
- So quick to laughter and tears,
- They came panting with hate and haste
- For the loot of five hundred years.
- They killed the trader, they sacked the shops,
- They ruined temple and town--
- They swept like wolves through the standing crops
- Crying that Rome was down.
- They wiped out all that they could find
- Of beauty and strength and worth,
- But they could not wipe out the Viking's Wind
- That brings the ships from the North.
- They could not wipe out the North-East gales
- Nor what those gales set free--
- The pirate ships with their close-reefed sails,
- Leaping from sea to sea.
- They had forgotten the shield-hung hull
- Seen nearer and more plain,
- Dipping into the troughs like a gull,
- And gull-like rising again--
- The painted eyes that glare and frown
- In the high snake-headed stem,
- Searching the beach while her sail comes down,
- They had forgotten them!
- There was no Count of the Saxon Shore
- To meet her hand to hand,
- As she took the beach with a grind and a roar,
- And the pirates rushed inland!
- IT is always a temptation to an armed and agile nation
- To call upon a neighbour and to say:--
- "We invaded you last night--we are quite prepared to fight,
- Unless you pay us cash to go away."
- And that is called asking for Dane-geld,
- And the people who ask it explain
- That you've only to pay 'em the Dane-geld
- And then you'll get rid of the Dane!
- It is always a temptation to a rich and lazy nation,
- To puff and look important and to say:--
- "Though we know we should defeat you, we have not the time to meet you.
- We will therefore pay you cash to go away."
- And that is called paying the Dane-geld;
- But we've proved it again and again,
- That if once you have paid him the Dane-geld
- You never get rid of the Dane.
- It is wrong to put temptation in the path of any nation,
- For fear they should succumb and go astray;
- So when you are requested to pay up or be molested,
- You will find it better policy to say:--
- "We never pay any-one Dane-geld,
- Nor matter how trifling the cost;
- For the end of that game is oppression and shame,
- And the nation that plays it is lost!"
Norman Conquest, 1066
- ENGLAND'S on the anvil--hear the hammers ring--
- Clanging from the Severn to the Tyne!
- Never was a blacksmith like our Norman King--
- England's being hammered, hammered, hammered into line.
- England's on the anvil! Heavy are the blows!
- (But the work will be a marvel when it's done.)
- Little bits of Kingdoms cannot stand against their foes.
- England's being hammered, hammered, hammered into one!
- There shall be one people--it shall serve one Lord--
- (Neither Priest nor Baron shall escape!)
- It shall have one speech and law, soul and strength and sword.
- England's being hammered, hammered, hammered into shape!
- "MY son," said the Norman Baron, "I am dying, and you will be heir
- To all the broad acres in England that William gave me for my share
- When we conquered the Saxon at Hastings, and a nice little handful it
- But before you go over to rule it I want you to understand this:--
- "The Saxon is not like us Normans. His manners are not so polite.
- But he never means anything serious till he talks about justice and
- When he stands like an ox in the furrow with his sullen set eyes on
- And grumbles, 'This isn't fair dealing,' my son, leave the Saxon alone.
- "You can horsewhip your Gascony archers, or torture your Picardy
- But don't try that game on the Saxon; you'll have the whole brood
round your ears.
- From the richest old Thane in the country to the poorest chained serf
in the field,
- They'll be at you and on you like hornets, and, if you are wise, you
- "But first you must master their language, their dialect, proverbs and
- Don't trust any clerk to interpret when they come with the tale of
- Let them know that you know what they're saying; let them feel that
you know what to say.
- Yes, even when you want to go hunting, hear 'em out if it takes you
- "They'll drink every hour of the daylight and poach every hour of the
- It's the sport not the rabbits they're after (we've plenty of game in
- Don't hang them or cut off their fingers. That's wasteful as well as
- For a hard-bitten, South-country poacher makes the best man-at-arms
you can find.
- "Appear with your wife and the children at their weddings and funerals
- Be polite but not friendly to Bishops; be good to all poor parish
- Say 'we', 'us' and 'ours' when you're talking, instead of 'you
fellows' and 'I.'
- Dont' ride over seeds; keep your temper; and never you tell 'em a
Magna Charta, June 15, 1215
- AT Runnymede, at Runnymede,
- What say the reeds at Runnymede?
- The lissom reeds that give and take,
- That bend so far, but never break.
- They keep the sleepy Thames awake
- With tales of John at Runnymede.
- At Runnymede, at Runnymede,
- Oh, hear the reeds at Runnymede:--
- "You musn't sell, delay, deny,
- A freeman's right or liberty.
- It wakes the stubborn Englishry,
- We saw 'em roused at Runnymede!
- "When through our ranks the Barons came,
- With little thought of praise or blame,
- But resolute to play the game,
- They lumbered up to Runnymede;
- And there they launched in solid line
- The first attack on Right Divine--
- The curt, uncompromising 'Sign!'
- That settled John at Runnymede.
- "At Runnymede, at Runnymede,
- Your rights were won at Runnymede!
- No freeman shall be fined or bound,
- Or dispossessed of freehold ground,
- Except by lawful judgment found
- And passed upon him by his peers.
- Forget not, after all these years,
- The Charter signed at Runnymede."
- And still when Mob or Monarch lays
- To rude a hand on English ways,
- The whisper wakes, the shudder plays,
- Across the reeds at Runnymede.
- And Thames, that knows the moods of kings,
- And crowds and priests and suchlike things,
- Rolls deep and dreadful as he brings
- Their warning down from Runnymede!
Parliaments of Henry III., 1265
- THERE are four good legs to my Father's Chair--
- Priest and People and Lords and Crown.
- I sits on all of 'em fair and square,
- And that is the reason it don't break down.
- I won't trust one leg, nor two, nor three,
- To carry my weight when I sets me down.
- I wants all four of 'em under me--
- Priest and People and Lords and Crown.
- I sits on all four and I favours none--
- Priest, nor People, nor Lords, nor Crown:
- And I never tilts in my chair, my son,
- And that is the reason it don't break down.
- When your time comes to sit in my Chair,
- Remember your Father's habits and rules.
- Sit on all four legs, fair and square,
- And never be tempted by one-legged stools!
B A C K
Poets' Corner .
H O M E .