Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Rudyard Kipling's Garden of Gethsemane

In a few days, on 11th November to be precise, it will be the 90th anniversary of the armistice ending the First World War. Many poems have been written about the bloody horrors of this Great War and of the rat and louse infested trenches; and several poems from the World War I poets have been featured from time to time on this blog.
Poet-in-Residence will mark the day by visiting the Poets Against War website (see sidebar link) and spending some quiet time reading and contemplating some of the 30,000 poems posted there by peace-seeking poets from all over the world. Some 20,000 of these Poets Against War poems have been delivered to the White House as a protest against George W Bush's illegal invasion of Iraq.
John Kipling, the son of Rudyard Kipling, was killed in the Battle of Loos on 27th September 1915. The following poem takes its title from the name of the garden at the foot of the west slope of the Mount of Olives where Judas Iscariot is said to have betrayed his good friend and mentor Jesus Christ.
Picardy, in the north of France, was in an area of heavy fighting and the deployment of gas for the first time in 1915 as a weapon. During this 'war to end all wars' as it was called some 9 million soldiers, or more correctly civilians in military uniform, were killed and more than 20 million were wounded.
In the poem the faraway voice of John Kipling is heard from beyond Picardy, from no less a place than Gethsemane, the ultimate place of betrayal. In truth millions of young men duly armed with messianic zeal 'Your Country Needs You!' on both sides were betrayed by the unbridled malfeasance of incompetent politicians, corrupt industrialists, greedy bankers, jingoistic newspaper editors and warmongers, and duly marched like cattle to the dehumanising and unimagined slaughter fields; the open graves waiting greedily between the trenches.

Gethsemane 1914-18

The Garden called Gethsemane
In Picardy it was,
And there the people came to see
The English soldiers pass.
We used to pass - we used to pass
Or halt, as it might be,
And ship our masks in case of gas
Beyond Gethsemane.

The Garden called Gethsemane,
It held a pretty lass,
But all the time she talked to me
I prayed my cup might pass.
The officer sat on the chair,
The men lay on the grass,
And all the time we halted there
I prayed my cup might pass.

It didn't pass - it didn't pass -
It didn't pass from me.
I drank it when we met the gas
Beyond Gethsemane.

Rudyard Kipling (1865 - 1936)


  1. beautifully put Gwilym and I love the musicality of Kipling's poems

  2. Thanks John. Yes, Kipling could play deft tunes on words. That "limpin' lump o' brick-dust Gunga Din" is my particular favourite.

  3. Hopefully there will be less wars now.

    i have added you to the blog roll Gwilym mate.

    love and peace

  4. Thanks for dropping by. It's great to be on the blog roll. I've tested it and it works both ways.

    Less wars? Yes, I think so. And more - If he gets 3 terms, like Roosevelt, he could transform the planet and make it a place fit for human beings.

  5. These first world war poems have never lost their impact have they? In my last year of teaching I "did" the war poets with a very unruly class of non-exam boys - and they were absolutely enthralled by them. I find these poets still make very painful reading and we would do well to remember it all on November 11th.
    I enjoy your blog tremendously.

  6. That's an interesting story about the unruly boys.
    Yesterday I was watching the Guido Knopp film 'Verdun' and in it was a scene where German soldiers were given their so-called newspapers as they disembarked from the train behind the front lines; basically the paper was one typed and folded sheet. There was a patriotic poem on the front page encouraging them to fight to glorious death for Emperor and Fatherland. The man read it out loud, screwed up the paper and threw it away. A very moving scene.
    Thanks for your comments and I'm glad you're enjoying the blog. I've been over to yours. It reminds me of my running club - Clayton Harriers. Lots of lovely stuff!

  7. I really admire this, I mean it really looks interesting!

  8. Not only 'interesting', as you say, but heartbreakingly true.

  9. Hey great site lots of learning can be done..congratulations for your site..

  10. TP, Many thanks for your visit and comment!


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