Epitaphs of the War

Epitaphs of the War

Poem by Rudyard Kipling

“equality of sacrifice” 

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

a servant 

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

a son 

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 

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


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 

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 

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 

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


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 

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

pelicans in the wilderness

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!

two canadian memorials


We giving all gained all.
    Neither lament us nor praise.
Only in all things recall,
    It is Fear, not Death that slays.


From little towns in a far land we came,
    To save our honour and a world aflame.
By little towns in a far land we sleep;
    And trust that world we won for you to keep!

the favour 

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 

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) 

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 

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.) 

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

bombed in london 

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

the sleepy sentinal 

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 

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

common form 

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

a dead statesman 

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 

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 

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

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 clamours breath known to the eye-pecking gulls.

destroyer in collision 

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 

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 

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 

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 

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 

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)

Ah, would swift ships had never been, for then we ne’er had found, 
These harsh Aegean 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.

On a Memorial Tablet in Holy Trinity Church,

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.


On a Panel in the Hall of the Institute of Journalists

We have served our day.