The King’s Pilgrimage

King George V’s Visit to War Cemeteries in France


Rudyard Kipling

            OUR KING went forth on pilgrimage
                His prayers and vows to pay
            To them that saved our heritage
                And cast their own away.

            And there was little show of pride,
                Or prows of belted steel,
            For the clean-swept oceans every side
                Lay free to every keel.

And the first land he found, it was shoal and banky ground—
Where the broader seas begin,
And a pale tide grieving at the broken harbour-mouth
Where they worked the death-ships in.

            And there was neither gull on the wing,
                Nor wave that could not tell
            Of the bodies that were buckled in the life-buoy’s ring
                That slid from swell to swell.

All that they had they gave—they gave; and they shall not return,
For these are those that have no grave where any heart may mourn.

And the next land he found, it was low and hollow ground—
Where once the cities stood,
But the man-high thistle had been master of it all,
Or the bulrush by the flood.

            And there was neither blade of grass,
                Nor lone star in the sky,
            But shook to see some spirit pass
                And took its agony.

And the next land he found, it was bare and hilly ground—
Where once the bread-corn grew,
But the fields were cankered and the water was defiled.
And the trees were riven through.

            And there was neither paved highway,
                Nor secret path in the wood,
            But had borne its weight of the broken clay
                And darkened ’neath the blood.

Father and mother they put aside, and the nearer love also—
An hundred thousand men that died whose graves shall no man know.

And the last land he found, it was fair and level ground
About a carven stone,
And a stark Sword brooding on the bosom of the Cross
Where high and low are one.

            And there was grass and the living trees,
                And the flowers of the spring,
            And there lay gentlemen from out of all the seas
                That ever called him King.

’Twixt Nieuport sands and the eastward lands where the Four Red Rivers spring,
Five hundred thousand gentlemen of those that served their King.

            All that they had they gave—they gave—
                In sure and single faith.
            There can no knowledge reach the grave
                To make them grudge their death
            Save only if they understood
                That, after all was done,
            We they redeemed denied their blood
                And mocked the gains it won.

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