Rosemary Sutcliff loved the work of Rudyard Kipling. This poem is quoted in an official UK government publication about military doctrine in the British Army, in a chapter on ‘conflict and the application of force’!
So we come down, uneasy, to look; uneasily pacing the beach.
These are the dykes our fathers made: we have never known a breach.
Time and again has the gale blown by and we were not afraid;
Now we come only to look at the dykes – at the dykes our fathers made.
Now we can only wait till the day, wait and apportion our shame.
These are the dykes our fathers left, but we would not look to the same.
Time and again we were warned of the dykes, time and again we delayed.
Now, it may fall, we have slain our sons, as our fathers we have betrayed.
Walking along the wreck of the dykes, watching the works of the sea!
These were the dykes our fathers made, to our great profit and ease.
But the peace is gone and the profit is gone, with the old sure days withdrawn…
That our own houses show as strange, when we come back in the dawn!
Rudyard Kipling, The Dykes, in Rudyard Kipling’s Verse – Inclusive Edition 1885-1932 (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1933) 302-304
One thought on “Kipling | The Dykes | On conflict and the application of force?”
I wonder if this poem in any way influenced Rosemary Sutcliff’s novel “Outcast”? After many trials and tribulations, its young protagonist, Beric, “joins in the work on the Rhee Wall of Romney Marsh, where the Romans are working to reclaim land from the sea. The progress of the Rhee Wall and the lives of the workers are threatened by a great storm, during which Beric bonds with his new comrades, and after which he concludes that he has finally found a place and a people where he belongs”.
I believe that the idea that the Rhee Wall was originally constructed by the Romans has now been largely rejected, but this current understanding doesn’t in any way detract from the power of RS’s story.