Elegiac Aspects and Biblical Imagery in Rudyard Kipling's "The Children"

Seminar Paper 2006 14 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Literature


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Formal Analysis

3. Rhetoric and Stylistic Devices
3.1 Imagery
3.1.1 Biblical Allusions
3.1.2 Trade Imagery
3.1.3 War Imagery

4. Elegiac Aspects

5. Conclusion

List of Works Cited

1. Introduction

After Rudyard Kipling came to fame in the 1890s with poems such as "Mandalay", "Tommy" and "The White Man's Burden", he was increasingly associated with jingoism and imperialism. Indeed, his most popular poems reflect a sense of glamour and excitement about war and Kipling himself was rather open about his anti-liberalism. When the outbreak of the First World War was imminent, Kipling manifested his militarist inclination in his poem "For All We Have and Are", which can essentially be summed up as a public call to arms.

The tone in Kipling's poetry changed towards "a new air of

sadness and loss" (Keating 199) when his 18 year-old only son John was reported wounded and missing at the Battle of Loos in 1915 and his body was never recovered. While Kipling shared this fate with many other parents at the time, the irony - and tragedy - lies in the fact that Kipling himself had pulled strings to get his son a commission in the Irish Guards after the boy's extremely poor eyesight had prevented his initial attempts at enlisting.

Sadly, the poems that dealt with this bereavement never received as

much attention as his early verse and were considered "synthetic", having a "dulling effect" (Wilson 63). One of these poems is "The Children", published in 1918 in his last collection of verse A Diversity of Creatures.

Taking "The Children" as an example, the aim of this research paper here is to demonstrate a different, non-imperialist and elegiac side of Kipling. Furthermore, it will be examined in how far the accusations of low quality are justified and whether this automatically results in a dull poem.

2. Formal Analysis

According to George Parfitt "there was a well-established style for 'public' verse which was appropriate for the prevalent sentiments felt at the outbreak of the war" (8). To him, this particular style is best exemplified in W.E. Henley's "A Song to an Old Tune", which he describes as "rhythmically regular and verbally undemanding, using alliteration, internal rhyme and proper names to create a sense of national unity" (8-9).

"The Children" fulfils the criterion of being verbally undemanding. Though the vocabulary of the poem cannot be considered colloquial, there is no use of technical terms or foreign expressions. There is no use of alliteration or place names either, but the imagery is comprehensible enough for the poem's essential meaning to be easily accessible. An unnamed speaker addresses an unknown audience and speaks representatively for any one who has lost a child during the the First World War. The repetitive use of "we", "our" and "us" throughout the poem heightens the sense of a collective, as exemplified in the first line of the poem:

These were our children who died for our lands;

they were dear in our sight.

The aspect of rhythm on the other hand proves to be more difficult. Although it is rhythmically not completely irregular, there is a certain feeling to the poem that "in spite of a Swinburnian measure and fluent double-rhyming" the lines "are merely consecutive lengths of prose"

("A Diversity of Creatures" 321). If one compares "The Children" to Swinburne's most famous poem "Hymn to Proserpine", the only common factor between the two poems seems to be the use of rhyming couplets. While both poems are indeed characterized by long lines, Kipling's poem is lacking Swinburne's fluency:

They bought us anew with their blood, forbearing to blame us, Those hours which we had not made good when the Judgement o'ercame us. (ll. 10-11)


Whither they mirthfully hastened as jostling for honour―

Not since her birth has our earth seen such worth loosed upon her.

(ll. 14-15)

As both examples illustrate, the second lines of the rhyming couplets are considerably longer, especially in the first example where the author even shortened the line by means of a syncope. The rhyme "honour/ upon her" verges on being a mosaic rhyme which is "a rhyme of two or more syllables, with more than one word making a part of the rhyme unit" (Cuddon 521). The two syllables of "honour" rhyme with the syllables of "upon her", which appears rather unskilled. The poem sounds disrupted and less fluent. For Kipling's poetry, this is somewhat unusual considering that some of his most popular poems are military ditties, such as his Barrack-Room Ballads, and patriotic hymns like the nationalistic "For All We Have and Are". Yet before concluding that this is proof of low quality versification, a possible argument could be that the long and disrupted lines are merely reflecting the parents' confusion over their loss and their difficulty of getting on smoothly with their everyday routine.



ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
513 KB
Catalog Number
Institution / College
Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz – Department of English and Linguistics
Rudyard Kipling The Children Elegy Biblical Imagery Poetry Poem World War I Poetry Lyrik des Ersten Weltkriegs



Title: Elegiac Aspects and Biblical Imagery in Rudyard Kipling's "The Children"