> Peter Bellamy > Songs > Recessional


[words Rudyard Kipling, music Peter Bellamy; notes on Recessional at the Kipling Society]

Rudyard Kipling composed Recessional to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897. The poem expresses pride in the British Empire, but also shows an underlying sadness that the Empire might go the way of all previous empires. Kipling recognises that boasting and jingoism—faults of which he was often accused—were inappropriate and vain in light of God’s dominion over the world.

Peter Bellamy with Sharon and the Students (Maggie Adam, Neil Adam, Anthea Bellamy, Peter Bellamy, Jim Ellison, Joel Griffiths, Lynda Hardcastle, Helen Hockenhull, Mike Hockenhull, Alan Rose and John Wade) sang Recessional in 1989 on his last LP, Rudyard Kipling Made Exceedingly Good Songs. This track was also included on his Free Reed anthology Wake the Vaulted Echoes. Peter Bellamy noted on the original album:

Written to mark Victoria’s jubilee. While the country wallows in an orgy of self congratulatory jingoism, Kipling admonishes those ‘drunk with sight of power’ to remember what Pride goeth before. In the past a frequently misunderstood work, today it can only be read as an Epitaph to Empire written, presciently, at the empire’s height and as such an astounding piece of political commentary as well as a monumental poem.

Dave Webber sang Recessional on the 1995 album of Barrack Room Ballads and other soldier’s poems of Rudyard Kipling as set to traditional tunes by Peter Bellamy, The Widow’s Uniform. He noted:

Few short literary works have caused such a sensation as did this poem on its publication in Diamond Jubilee year, 1897, or divided both academic and lay opinion as it has ever since. It redeems Kipling in the eyes of many, and even Orwell accepted it as “a denunciation of power politics”:. Yet some of Kipling’s admirers wish he had not repented of his original view of the piece (he threw away the first draft), detecting a sententious, “British is best” tone which undermines the poem’s plea for humility. The issue will continue for as long as Kipling himself is argued over, but can any deny that it makes a magnificent piece of music?


Peter Bellamy sings Recessional

God of our fathers, known of old—
Lord of our far-flung battle line—
Beneath whose awful hand we hold
Dominion over palm and pine—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

The tumult and the shouting dies—
The Captains and the Kings depart—
Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
An humble and a contrite heart.
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

Far-called our navies melt away—
On dune and headland sinks the fire—
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

If, drunk with sight of power, we loose
Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe—
Such boastings as the Gentiles use,
Or lesser breeds without the Law—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

For heathen heart that puts her trust
In reeking tube and iron shard—
All valiant dust that builds on dust,
And guarding calls not Thee to guard.
For frantic boast and foolish word,
Thy Mercy on Thy People, Lord!