The Roman Centurion's Song

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The Roman Centurion's Song
by Rudyard Kipling

This poem has several alternative titles including The Roman Occupation of Britain – A.D. 300., The Roman Centurion Speaks, The Roman Centurion, and The Centurion’s Song. A recurring topic in Kipling's writing is that of an "Imperial" which forms an attachment to a colony that equals or surpasses their affection for their homeland.

In A School History of England (1911) it was accompanied by the following explanatory note in the right margin "A Roman Soldier who loves Britain."

These gentlemen at first talked about exile, shivered and cursed the ‘beastly British climate,’ heated their houses with hot air, and longed to get home to Italy. But many stayed; their duty or their business obliged them to stay: and into them too the spirit of the dear motherland entered, and became a passion. Their children, perhaps never saw Rome; but Rome and Britain had an equal share of their love and devotion, and they, perhaps, thought something like this:—

The Roman Centurion Speaks:

A Roman soldier who loves Britain.Legate, I had the news last night. My cohort’s 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. 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 shall 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 Rhodanus 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!

Youll take the old Aurelian Road through shore-descending pines
Where, blue as any peacocks neck, the Tyrrhene Ocean shines.
Youll go where laurel crowns are won, but will you eer forget
Tre 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!

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1926.

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 80 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.