Recessional in Afghanistan

Two poems relevant to today’s events in Kabul: British Imperialist poet Rudyard Kipling’s Recessional (1897), warning that all empires are temporary and the greatest of military powers will be, one day, only dust. Second, Ireland’s national poet Thomas Davis’ Ballad of Freedom (1842) in praise of Dost Mohammad and Afghan resistance to the British, Algerian resistance to the French and Circassian resistance to the Russian. It was not a question of religion or “civilisation” for Davis and Young Ireland but who was right and who was wrong.

Recessional by Rudyard Kipling, British Imperialist poet (1897)

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!

A Ballad of Freedom by Thomas Davis, Ireland’s national poet (1842)

THE Frenchman sailed in Freedom’s name to smite the Algerine, 
The strife was short, the crescent sunk, and then his guile was seen; 
For, nestling in the pirate’s hold—a fiercer pirate far— 
He bade the tribes yield up their flocks, the towns their gates unbar. 
Right on he pressed with freemen’s hands to subjugate the free, 
The Berber in old Atlas glens, the Moor in Titteri; 
And wider had his razzias spread, his cruel conquests broader, 
But God sent down, to face his frown, the gallant Abdel-Kader— 
The faithful Abdel-Kader! unconquered Abdel-Kader! 
Like falling rock, Or fierce siroc— 
No savage or marauder— 
Son of a slave! First of the brave! 
Hurrah for Abdel-Kader! 

The Englishman, for long, long years, had ravaged Ganges’ side— 
A dealer first, intriguer next, he conquered far and wide, 
Till, hurried on by avarice, and thirst of endless rule, 
His sepoys pierced to Candahar, his flag waved in Cabul; 
But still within the conquered land was one unconquered man, 
The fierce Pushtani lion, the fiery Akhbar Khan— 
He slew the sepoys on the snow, till Scindh’s full flood they swam it 
Right rapidly, content to flee the son of Dost Mohammed, 
The son of Dost Mohammed, and brave old Dost Mohammed— 
Oh! long may they Their mountains sway, 
Akhbar and Dost Mohammed! 
Long live the Dost! Who Britain crost, 
Hurrah for Dost Mohammed! 

The Russian, lord of million serfs, and nobles serflier still, 
Indignant saw Circassia’s sons bear up against his will; 
With fiery ships he lines their coast, his armies cross their streams— 
He builds a hundred fortresses—his conquests done, he deems. 
But steady rifles—rushing steeds—a crowd of nameless chiefs— 
The plough is o’er his arsenals!—his fleet is on the reefs! 
The maidens of Kabyntica are clad in Moscow dresses— 
His slavish herd, how dared they beard the mountain bred Cherkesses! 
The lightening Cherkesses!—the thundering Cherkesses! 
May Elburz top In Azof drop, 
Ere Cossacks beat Cherkesses! 
The fountain head Whence Europe spread— 
Hurrah! for the tall Cherkesses! 

But Russia preys on Poland’s fields, where Sobieski reigned, 
And Austria on Italy—the Roman eagle chained— 
Bohemia, Servia, Hungary, within her clutches, gasp; 
And Ireland struggles gallantly in England’s loosening grasp. 
Oh! would all these their strength unite, or battle on alone, 
Like Moor, Pushtani, and Cherkess, they soon would have their own. 
Hurrah! hurrah! it can’t be far, when from the Scindh to Shannon 
Shall gleam a line of freemen’s flags begirt by freemen’s cannon! 
The coming day of Freedom—the flashing flags of Freedom! 
The victor glaive— The mottoes brave, 
May we be there to read them! 
That glorious noon, God send it soon— 
Hurrah for human Freedom! 

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