"The Last Ode"

(Nov. 27, B.C. 8)

Horace, Ode 31, Bk. V

(Notes by Lisa Lewis
and Susan Treggiari}

the poem
[Sept 26 2004]


First published in Debits and Credits (1926), following the story "The Eye of Allah".


This is another of Kipling’s poems in imitation of the Roman poet Horace (see notes on "To the Companions", "The Survival" and "The Portent"). “The Last Ode” is supposed to be written just before the poet’s death. Kipling had written the first verse (with “instant power” instead of “present strength” in the third line) in the margin of his copy of Horace, as comment on Ode 17, Bk. II, in which Horace prayed that he would not outlive Maecenas [Carrington, Kipling’s Horace p. 27].

Horace was one of those classical writers who only became well known to the Christian world after the Renaissance. Others, having received the Church’s approval, were familiar names to the educated in the 13th century, when “The Eye of Allah” is set. The recovery of forgotten texts and scientific knowledge through Islamic sources, causing conflicts with Christian orthodoxy, is a major theme in the story.

Notes on the text

[line 1] Bantine Bantia was a village near Venusia, Horace’s birthplace. It is mentioned on Ode 4, Bk. III.

[line 2] dawn wind A favourite theme of Kipling’s: see “The Prophet and the Country,” pp. 199-200. See also the poem "The Dawn Wind".

[line 5] Virgil died Horace’s friend the poet Virgil had died in 19 BCE. A passage in his Eclogue IV foretold the birth of a child who would lead the world into a new golden age. This was read by the churchmen as prophesying the coming of Christ, so that Virgil (unlike Horace) was seen as acceptable.

[line 11] Star No star is mentioned in Eclogue IV. Kipling was probably thinking of the Christmas star that guided the “wise men from the East” to visit the newborn Jesus [Matt. 2,2].

[lines 12-13] lost shades … forever This seems to echo the themes of the poem "Jane's Marriage" and the story "A Madonna of the Trenches"

[line 15] Maecenas Maecenas was a wealthy and influential patron who supported both Virgil and Horace. Maecenas died in 8 BCE, a few days before Horace. His tomb was on the Esquiline, one of the seven hills of Rome, where he had lived. Horace would be buried near him.