Manly Poems – Gethsemane by Rudyard Kipling

I’ve recently been reading up on my war poetry, especially after viewing the Scottish National Theatre’s Black Watch this week. I stumbled across a beautiful and tragic poem by Kipling, dealing with the subject of war as was his wont in later life.

The Garden of Gethsemane sits at the foot of the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem and is famed for being the place where Jesus prayed with his disciples the day before his crucifixion.  In the Book of Matthew, Jesus prays: “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” Kipling likened the predicament of Jesus to that of all soldiers. Their destiny, their duty, is not theirs to will. After the First World War, the image of the conflict as the slaughter of masses of soldiers as Christ-like figures became widespread. The idea of a soldier’s submission to his commander’s will became tarnished beyond repair.

This piece exemplifies a great turning point in English literature and indeed, in Western literature generally. After this first global conflict, war poetry became anti-war poetry and remained so. Gone were the days of glorifying the honour of death in war.

Gethsemane

(1914 – 1918)

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 may 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!

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1 Comment

Filed under Manly Poems

One response to “Manly Poems – Gethsemane by Rudyard Kipling

  1. amy

    I am not sure this is massively true, there have been poems written that don’t glorify war, although they maybe didn’t explicitly declare the horrors of war. If by Rudyard Kipling is in no way glorifying war, but is glorifying a persons conduct in the failure of war. Although I do agree that it is a turning point in war poetry as the veil that the horrors were hidden behind in the past has gone.

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