Epitaphs of the War

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Epitaphs of the War
by Rudyard Kipling
Written about those killed during the First World War. First published in The Years Between (1919).


“EQUALITY OF SACRIFICE”[edit]

A. “I was a Have.” B. “I was a ‘have-not.’”
    (Together.) “What hast thou given which I gave not?”

A SERVANT[edit]

We were together since the War began.
He was my servant—and the better man.

A SON[edit]

My son was killed while laughing at some jest. I would I knew
What it was, and it might serve me in a time when jests are few.

AN ONLY SON[edit]

I have slain none except my Mother.
She (Blessing her slayer) died of grief for me.

EX-CLERK[edit]

Pity not! The Army gave
Freedom to a timid slave:
In which Freedom did he find
Strength of body, will, and mind:
By which strength he came to prove
Mirth, Companionship, and Love:
For which Love to Death he went:
In which Death he lies content.

THE WONDER[edit]

Body and Spirit I surrendered whole
To harsh Instructors—and received a soul . . .
If mortal man could change me through and through
From all I was—what may The God not do?

HINDU SEPOY IN FRANCE[edit]

This man in his own country prayed we know not to what Powers.
We pray Them to reward him for his bravery in ours.

THE COWARD[edit]

I could not look on Death, which being known,
Men led me to him, blindfold and alone.

SHOCK[edit]

My name, my speech, my self I had forgot.
My wife and children came—I knew them not.
I died. My Mother followed. At her call
And on her bosom I remembered all.

A GRAVE NEAR CAIRO[edit]

Gods of the Nile, should this stout fellow here
Get out—get out! He knows not shame nor fear.

PELICANS IN THE WILDERNESS[edit]

(A Grave Near Halfa)

The blown sand heaps on me, that none may learn
    Where I am laid for whom my children grieve. . . .
O wings that beat at dawning, ye return
    Out of the desert to your young at eve!

THE FAVOUR[edit]

Death favoured me from the first, well knowing I could not endure
    To wait on him day by day. He quitted my betters and came
Whistling over the fields, and, when he had made all sure,
    “Thy line is at end,” he said, “but at least I have saved its name.”

THE BEGINNER[edit]

On the first hour of my first day
    In the front trench I fell.
(Children in boxes at a play
    Stand up to watch it well.)

R.A.F. (AGED EIGHTEEN)[edit]

Laughing through clouds, his milk-teeth still unshed,
Cities and men he smote from overhead.
His deaths delivered, he returned to play
Childlike, with childish things now put away.

THE REFINED MAN[edit]

I was of delicate mind. I stepped aside for my needs,
    Disdaining the common office. I was seen from afar and killed...
How is this matter for mirth? Let each man be judged by his deeds.
    I have paid my price to live with myself on the terms that I willed.

NATIVE WATER-CARRIER (M.E.F.)[edit]

Prometheus brought down fire to men.
    This brought up water.
The Gods are jealous—now, as then,
    Giving no quarter.

BOMBED IN LONDON[edit]

On land and sea I strove with anxious care
To escape conscription. It was in the air!

THE SLEEPY SENTINEL[edit]

Faithless the watch that I kept: now I have none to keep.
I was slain because I slept: now I am slain I sleep.
Let no man reproach me again; whatever watch is unkept—
I sleep because I am slain. They slew me because I slept.

BATTERIES OUT OF AMMUNITION[edit]

If any mourn us in the workshop, say
We died because the shift kept holiday.

COMMON FORM[edit]

If any question why we died,
Tell them, because our fathers lied.

A DEAD STATESMAN[edit]

I could not dig: I dared not rob:
Therefore I lied to please the mob.
Now all my lies are proved untrue
And I must face the men I slew.
What tale shall serve me here among
Mine angry and defrauded young?

THE REBEL[edit]

If I had clamoured at Thy Gate
    For gift of Life on Earth,
And, thrusting through the souls that wait,
    Flung headlong into birth—
Even then, even then, for gin and snare
    About my pathway spread,
Lord, I had mocked Thy thoughtful care
    Before I joined the Dead!
But now? . . . I was beneath Thy Hand
    Ere yet the Planets came.
And now—though Planets pass, I stand
    The witness to Thy shame.

THE OBEDIENT[edit]

Daily, though no ears attended,
    Did my prayers arise.
Daily, though no fire descended
    Did I sacrifice.
Though my darkness did not lift,
    Though I faced no lighter odds,
Though the Gods bestowed no gift,
                        None the less,
None the less, I served the Gods!

A DRIFTER OFF TARENTUM[edit]

He from the wind-bitten north with ship and companions descended.
    Searching for eggs of death spawned by invisible hulls.
Many he found and drew forth. Of a sudden the fishery ended
    In flame and a clamorous breath not new to the eye-pecking gulls.

DESTROYERS IN COLLISION[edit]

For Fog and Fate no charm is found
    To lighten or amend.
I, hurrying to my bride, was drowned—
    Cut down by my best friend.

CONVOY ESCORT[edit]

I was a shepherd to fools
    Causelessly bold or afraid.
They would not abide by my rules.
    Yet they escaped. For I stayed.

UNKNOWN FEMALE CORPSE[edit]

Headless, lacking foot and hand,
Horrible I come to land.
I beseech all women’s sons
Know I was a mother once.

RAPED AND REVENGED[edit]

One used and butchered me: another spied
Me broken — for which thing an hundred died.
So it was learned among the heathen hosts
How much a freeborn woman’s favour costs.

SALONIKAN GRAVE[edit]

I have watched a thousand days
Push out and crawl into night
Slowly as tortoises.
Now I, too, follow these.
It is fever, and not the fight—
Time, not battle—that slays.

THE BRIDEGROOM[edit]

Call me not false, beloved,
    If, from thy scarce-known breast
So little time removed,
    In other arms I rest.

For this more ancient bride
    Whom coldly I embrace
Was constant at my side
    Before I saw thy face.

Our marriage, often set—
    By miracle delayed—
At last is consummate,
    And cannot be unmade.

Live, then, whom Life shall cure.
    Almost, of Memory,
And leave us to endure
    Its immortality.

V. A. D. (MEDITERRANEAN)[edit]

Ah, would swift ships had never been, for then we ne’er had found,
These harsh Ægean rocks between, this little virgin drowned,
Whom neither spouse nor child shall mourn, but men she nursed through pain
And—certain keels for whose return the heathen look in vain.

ACTORS[edit]

On a Memorial Tablet in Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-on-Avon

We counterfeited once for your disport
    Men’s joy and sorrow: but our day has passed.
We pray you pardon all where we fell short
    Seeing we were your servants to this last.

JOURNALISTS[edit]

On a Panel in the Hall of the Institute of Journalists

We have served our day.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1923.

The author died in 1936, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 75 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.