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Rudyard Kipling composed the poem “Hymn Before Action” in 1896. On the eve of war, soldiers pray to God and Mary in this manner. The poem was influenced by Samuel John Stone’s hymn The Church’s One Foundation from 1860. It was written and printed in The Times as word of the disastrous Jameson Raid of January 1896 spread throughout Britain. As a result, it has been interpreted as a declaration of dread regarding the growing Great Power animosity toward Britain.
About the Poet
Rudyard Kipling, whose full name is Joseph Rudyard Kipling, was an English short-story writer, poet, and novelist. He was born on December 30, 1865, in Bombay (now Mumbai), India, and passed away on January 18, 1936, in London, England. He is best known for his works for children and his celebration of British imperialism. In 1907, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.
The earth is full of anger, The seas are dark with wrath, The Nations in their harness Go up against our path: Ere yet we loose the legions -- Ere yet we draw the blade, Jehovah of the Thunders, Lord God of Battles, aid!
The poet here portrays that the soldiers are praying before the battle as the planet is racked with fury and the nations are in their harnesses, even the oceans are dark and raging with fury. The soldiers are bedding this side of the earth and oceans to change their way as they know that they might lose the battle yet they will not lose without a fight. The soldiers are asking help from Jehovah of Thunder who is the God of battles so that they can fight against the angry earth and ocean.
High lust and froward bearing, Proud heart, rebellious brow -- Deaf ear and soul uncaring, We seek Thy mercy now! The sinner that forswore Thee, The fool that passed Thee by, Our times are known before Thee -- Lord, grant us strength to die!
The poet then says that the soldiers have high passion and forward bearing, a proud heart, a defiant forehead, and a heartless soul, yet they are asking for pity from God. They consider themselves to be fools and sinners who ignored and abandoned God. God knows what will be the outcome of their days and ask for courage so that they can die in honor.
For those who kneel beside us At altars not Thine own, Who lack the lights that guide us, Lord, let their faith atone! If wrong we did to call them, By honour bound they came; Let not Thy Wrath befall them, But deal to us the blame.
For those who kneel beside us
The soldiers then pray for their brothers who kneel beside them, who lack the light that guides them. They ask God to prepare them as well as they had faith in him too. If the soldiers miscalled them, they came as a matter of honor. Let them not be punished but lay their responsibility at the soldiers’ feet instead.
From panic, pride, and terror Revenge that knows no rein -- Light haste and lawless error, Protect us yet again, Cloke Thou our undeserving, Make firm the shuddering breath, In silence and unswerving To taste Thy lesser death.
The poet here says that revenge has no profit in the battle, it only causes pride panic, and rage in a soldier. The soldiers ask once more to guard them even if they are not deserving. Make his trembling breath solid and unwaveringly silent as he tastes the soldiers’ lesser death.
Ah, Mary pierced with sorrow, Remember, reach and save The soul that comes to-morrow Before the God that gave! Since each was born of woman, For each at utter need -- True comrade and true foeman -- Madonna, intercede!
The poet shifts to Mary and the Soldiers now pray to Mary who is torn by grief, they ask her to save the souls that are about to die on the battlefield the next day. The soldiers ask her by now calling her Madonna to make a plea to God for saving them as everyone is born of a woman, it is she who can save them by pleading to God for their lives.
E'en now their vanguard gathers, E'en now we face the fray -- As Thou didst help our fathers, Help Thou our host to-day. Fulfilled of signs and wonders, In life, in death made clear -- Jehovah of the Thunders, Lord God of Battles, hear!
The soldiers now are preparing for the army to engage in combat, they ask for support as their ancestors were supported. Before leaving for the battle, they again call to the God of Battle, Jehovah of the Thunders to hear their prayers, even if it means life or death.