"A Song of the English"
Kipling's use of religious language seems to have little theological or doctrinal meaning: rather, it serves to establish an appropriately solemn tone and a set of values that is crucial to the maintenance of "the Law". When Kipling addresses the British people in this way, he is not calling on them to be more religious, but to be true civilising imperialists. That involves, centrally, the application of Christian principles and the exercise of religious tolerance.' It was another of Rudyard's contradictions that, as an agnostic, he could so easily stir British sentiment with an appeal to an outdated mid-Victorian religiosity.The English around the world
... in the honourable body of those English poets who have done England service in strengthening the foundations of her influence and of her fame.Ricketts goes to quote W D Howells in McClure's Magazine:
Recognising the real audience at which The Sevn Seas was directed, he crowned Kipling "The Laureate of the larger England". Astutely, he linked the poem's intense patriotism with Kipling's own colonial background...Peter Keating (pp. 99-101) writing a hundred years after Kipling, when the world-wide Empire was a distant memory, notes that when The Seven Seas was published in 1896, its solemn air of commitment to a great purpose is taken up immediately in "A Song of the English":
It had been written three years earlier to mark the inauguration in London of the Imperial Institute, and first published in the English Illustrated Magazine, May 1893 ...The importance he attached to this poem is apparent not only in the message it carries, but also in its ambitious structure which consists of seven interconnected "songs", several of them subdivided into separable units. Kipling's own description of the whole poem as "a song of broken interludes" captures exactly the effect achieved by his use of varied verse forms and different voices. In English versification it belongs with such works as Dryden's ode "Alexander's Feast" and Burns's cantata "Love and Liberty"...Kipling was, of course, expressing, in rolling Old Testament language, ideas which were common currency among late-Victorian writers and their readers. Ann Weygandt (p. 126) notes Kipling's debt to the style and rhetoric of Swinburne's work, in particular "Litany of Nations" in Songs before Sunrise (1871). See also Kipling's later poems "Recessional" (1897) and "The White Man's Burden" (1899).
The first response, in turning from Barrack-Room Ballads to "A Song of the English", is shock at Kipling's pomposity and loss of poetic inventiveness...The initial mood of prayer, absurdly undercut by Kipling's own God-like interjections, portentous italics, exclamation marks, and religiosity, serves only to make the shameless boast that the English are God's chosen people, destined to rule the earth.
It recalls the patriotism of Dickens's Mr Podsnap, though without the deflationary satire:
"No Other Country is so Favoured as This Country ... This Island was Blest, Sir, to the Direct Exclusion of such Other Countries as - as there may happen to be."The covenant between God and the English goes even further than anything Mr Podsnap could envisage. Although the people have "sinned", and their "rulers" have gone from "righteousness"; even though "Deep in all dishonour ... we stained our garments' hem"; still, forgiveness will follow: "We were led by evil counsellors - the Lord shall deal with them!" The manner is that in which the God of the Old Testament comforted one of the leaders of His chosen people: "Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward" (Genesis, 15:1).
[Our Mutual Friend (1864/5) Ch. 11.]