The Choice


The thirty-third in my on-going series on the poetry of Rudyard Kipling. The other posts in the series may be read here, here , here , here, here , here, here, here, here, here, here, here , here, here, here , here, here, here , here, here, here , here, here , here , here , here , herehere, here , here here and here.  Like most Brits of his generation, Kipling had ambivalent feelings towards the United States.  He had married an American and had lived with her in Vermont from 1892 to 1896 when the family moved to England.  He found much to admire in the Great Republic and much to criticize.  It could be said that Kipling, the quintessential Englishman, adopted an American attitude of both love, and the freedom to speak his mind about what he perceived to be wrong, as to America.  In any case there was nothing ambivalent about the poem he published in April of 1917 after the US entered the Great War on the side of The Allies:


  To the Judge of Right and Wrong
With Whom fulfillment lies
Our purpose and our power belong,
 Our faith and sacrifice.
  Let Freedom’s land rejoice!
 Our ancient bonds are riven;
Once more to us the eternal choice
Of good or ill is given.
Not at a little cost,
 Hardly by prayer or tears,
Shall we recover the road we lost
In the drugged and doubting years.
  But after the fires and the wrath,
 But after searching and pain,
His Mercy opens us a path
To live with ourselves again.
  In the Gates of Death rejoice!
 We see and hold the good—
Bear witness, Earth, we have made our choice
For Freedom’s brotherhood.
  Then praise the Lord Most High
Whose Strength hath saved us whole,
Who bade us choose that the Flesh should die
And not the living Soul!

The last two stanzas were added to the poem in 1919, after it was clear the blood price that America paid for its participation.  It is interesting that Kipling understood that America entered into the war as a crusade and not simply a conflict fought for lesser reasons.  That fact would lead to great disillusionment after it became clear that the War to End War did no such thing, but it is important that in the United States  this was said, and believed, by the majority of Americans a century ago.
Published in: on July 27, 2017 at 5:31 am  Comments (2)  
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  1. Are you familiar with Alfred Noyes’ poem about the beginning of the war The Redemption of Europe? I think it’s a neglected masterpiece. I’ll quote this stanza about Belgium:

    Choose ye, a hundred legions cried,
    Dishonour or the instant sword!
    Ye chose. Ye met that blood-stained tide;
    A little kingdom kept its word;
    And, dying, cried across the night:
    Hear us, o Earth, we chose the Right!

    The rest is here:

  2. Thanks Fabio! I love Noyes but I had never read that poem. The crime against Belgium has been too easily forgotten. I will never forget what the Belgian King said when he received the proposal from the Kaiser that Belgium would share in the German conquests if they did not oppose the German Army marching through on its way to Paris: “What does he think that I am?”. Clemenceau’s comment after the War to a Reporter asking him what he thought future historians would say about war guilt also comes to mind: “I do not know, but I do know one thing that they will not say, that Belgium attacked Germany!”

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