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"Recessional" is a poem by Rudyard Kipling, which he composed on the occasion of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in 1897. The poem expresses pride in the British Empire, but also an underlying sadness that the Empire might go the way of all previous empires. Kipling recognizes that boasting and jingoism - faults of which he was often accused - were inappropriate and vain in light of God's dominion over the world.

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, altered to fit the theme of the American imperialist expansion after the Spanish-American War.[1]

Lest We Forget

The words "Lest We Forget" form the refrain of "Recessional". The phrase became popular as a warning about the perils of hubris and the inevitable decline of imperial power.

The history of western Christendom shows a recurrent pattern. When nations rise to wealth and power they are inclined to forget their God. The understanding was that it was Divine Providence who brought them the material and spiritual blessings that nurtured them into a position of greatness among the nations. Here are the telling lines of Rudyard Kipling's poem. The line "that we will not forget" says it was God who enabled the British to be the empire they then were; written for the queen's jubilee, this refers to her title of defender of the faith and, in essence the burden to rule over the less privileged.

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!

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

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!
Amen.

References

  1. ^ Greenblatt, Stephen (ed.) (2006). Norton Anthology of English Literature. New York: Norton. ISBN 0-393-92532-3.

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