The thirty-first in my ongoing series examining the poetry of Rudyard Kipling. The other posts in the series may be read here, here , here , here, here , here, here, here, here, here, here, here , here, here, here , here, here, here , here, here, here , here, here , here , here , here , here, here, here and here.
Going away the most popular monarch in British history was Queen Victoria who reigned 63 years and seven months over the United Kingdom and the British Empire, being acclaimed Empress of India on May 1, 1876. To most of her British subjects she became a mother figure, as her reign went on, particularly in the 1880s and 1890s. After the death of her beloved husband Prince Albert in 1861, shortly after his efforts in toning down a British message to the Lincoln administration during the Trent affair helped avert war between the United States and Great Britain, she put on black mourning which she wore for the remainder of her life. Her relative isolation after that perhaps added to her air of majesty as she became a symbol of her far flung domains encompassing a quarter of the population of the Earth.
Kipling had a fairly ambivalent attitude to the British monarchy, liking them well enough as human beings, but also recognizing the struggle that had been waged throughout English history to gain liberties. The role of British monarchs during Kipling’s life time suited Kipling: they were now out of politics and reigned but did not rule. Kipling had boundless contempt for almost all politicians, calling them little tin gods on wheels, an expression not original to him but which he dearly loved. In his Barrack Room Ballads (1892) Kipling inserted a tribute by a common soldier to the Widow of Windsor:
‘Ave you ‘eard o’ the Widow at Windsor
With a hairy gold crown on ‘er ‘ead?
She ‘as ships on the foam — she ‘as millions at ‘ome,
An’ she pays us poor beggars in red.
(Ow, poor beggars in red!)
There’s ‘er nick on the cavalry ‘orses,
There’s ‘er mark on the medical stores —
An’ ‘er troopers you’ll find with a fair wind be’ind
That takes us to various wars.
(Poor beggars! — barbarious wars!)
Then ‘ere’s to the Widow at Windsor,
An’ ‘ere’s to the stores an’ the guns,
The men an’ the ‘orses what makes up the forces
O’ Missis Victorier’s sons.
(Poor beggars! Victorier’s sons!)
Walk wide o’ the Widow at Windsor,
For ‘alf o’ Creation she owns:
We ‘ave bought ‘er the same with the sword an’ the flame,
An’ we’ve salted it down with our bones.
(Poor beggars! — it’s blue with our bones!)
Hands off o’ the sons o’ the Widow,
Hands off o’ the goods in ‘er shop,
For the Kings must come down an’ the Emperors frown
When the Widow at Windsor says “Stop”!
(Poor beggars! — we’re sent to say “Stop”!)
Then ‘ere’s to the Lodge o’ the Widow,
From the Pole to the Tropics it runs —
To the Lodge that we tile with the rank an’ the file,
An’ open in form with the guns.
(Poor beggars! — it’s always they guns!)
We ‘ave ‘eard o’ the Widow at Windsor,
It’s safest to let ‘er alone:
For ‘er sentries we stand by the sea an’ the land
Wherever the bugles are blown.
(Poor beggars! — an’ don’t we get blown!)
Take ‘old o’ the Wings o’ the Mornin’,
An’ flop round the earth till you’re dead;
But you won’t get away from the tune that they play
To the bloomin’ old rag over’ead.
(Poor beggars! — it’s ‘ot over’ead!)
Then ‘ere’s to the sons o’ the Widow,
Wherever, ‘owever they roam.
‘Ere’s all they desire, an’ if they require
A speedy return to their ‘ome.
(Poor beggars! — they’ll never see ‘ome!)