Sunday, December 18, 2011

Poem of the Day: Rudyard Kipling Waxes Metaphorical About Fifteenth Century England

The Dawn Wind

The Fifteenth Century

At two o'clock in the morning, if you open your window and listen,
You will hear the feet of the Wind that is going to call the sun.
And the trees in the shadow rustle and the trees in the moonlight glisten,
And though it is deep, dark night, you feel that the night is done.

So do the cows in the field. They graze for an hour and lie down,
Dozing and chewing the cud; or a bird in the ivy wakes,
Chirrups one note and is still, and the restless Wind strays on,
Fidgeting far down the road, till, softly, the darkness breaks.

Back comes the Wind full strength with a blow like an angel's wing,
Gentle but waking the world, as he shouts: "The Sun! The Sun!"
And the light floods over the fields and the birds begin to sing,
And the Wind dies down in the grass. It is day and his work is done.

So when the world is asleep, and there seems no hope of her waking
Out of some long, bad dream that makes her mutter and moan,
Suddenly, all men arise to the noise of fetters breaking,
And every one smiles at his neighbour and tells him his soul is his own!
-- Rudyard Kipling
I'd always known the opening quatrain only in the context of its use as the epigraph for The Citadel of the Autarch (the fourth book of Gene Wolfe's masterpiece The Book of the New Sun). Recently it occurred to me to wonder what poem it came from; the above is the answer. It's one of a cycle of poems first published in A School History of England (1911) by C.R.L. Fletcher and Rudyard Kipling. Peter Keating notes that "It was used to close chapter VI, ‘The End of the Middle Ages: Richard II to Richard III, 1377-1485.’ An entry in the right hand margin beside the poem reads: ‘The hour before the dawn’ which might – given that the poem is centrally about process rather than achievement - make a more precise title for the poem than the one it carries."

No comments: