Originally published in 1919 in the anthology entitled The Years Between, "Epitaphs of the War" was one of the many compositions from that collection to deal with Rudyard Kipling's regret over World War I. The anthology was originally published by Doubleday, Page & Company, and has since entered the public domain and is no longer in print. However, both Project Gutenberg and Google Books have digitized copies of the original English edition.
At its shallowest level, Kipling's early work was a great proponent of imperialism, (as evidenced throughout many of his works such as "The White Man's Burden", and "Recessional") and the glory of strong leadership (demonstrated in Captains Courageous and "If"). This attitude towards expansion and national honor may have played strongly in Kipling pressuring his son Jack to accept a commission as an officer (which had been procured through his father's prestige and influence) in the Irish Guards at the young age of seventeen (despite the fact that Jack was initially disqualified for poor eyesight).
When Jack was killed in 1915 at the Battle of Loos, during the Artois campaign, Kipling's remorse was tangible. Besides publishing The Years Between, Kipling went on to join the Imperial War Graves Commission, publish an authoritative regimental history of the Irish Guards and a short story about visiting war cemeteries entitled "The Gardener". The epitaph "Common Form" is widely held to be a confession by Kipling. Adding to Kipling's grief, Jack was initially declared "lost", and his body was not identified until 1922. Although a monument was constructed on the site of the identified grave, questions arose on whether the correct grave had been identified just five years later. Kipling died in 1936, unsure if Jack's body had ever been found.
"Epitaphs of the War" is filled with prose ranging from warnings to those who would hastily enter war to comfort for those who have lost a loved one in combat. In that sense, it has far outlived its original motivation and is eerily appropriate today.
"Equality of Sacrifice"
A. "I was a Have."
B. "I was a "have-not."
(Together.) "What hast thou given which I gave not?
We were together since the War began.
He was my servant - and the better man.
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.
I have slain none except my Mother
(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.
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.
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 Haifa)
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.
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.
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.
Laughing through clouds, his milk-teeth
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 laid 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 Sentinel
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.
If any mourn us in the workshop, say
We died because the shift kept holiday.
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?
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.
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!
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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, 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.
On a Panel in the Hall of the Institute of Journalists
We have served our day