The Song of Seven Cities



1917


(notes by John Radcliffe
and John McGivering)


the poem


[February 18th 2018]

Publication

This poem, listed in ORG as No 1047, was first published with the story "The Vortex" in A Diversity of Creatures on April 1st 1917.

Collected in:
  • Inclusive Verse (1919)
  • Definitive Verse (1940)
  • The Sussex Edition vols ix and xxxiv (1940)
  • The Burwash Edition vols ix and xxvii (1941)
  • Cambridge Edition (2013) Ed. Thomas Pinney, p. 973.

The poem

The seven roaring cities of the poem are seven humming beehives. People walked carefully past them, no-one dared to threaten the bees when they flew abroad. Like soldiers they had their guards and their outposts. But then came disaster. They were swept away by rising flood waters, Queen, workers, hatchlings and all, leaving only the ruins of the hives. The poet vows to revive the colonies, building new hives set safe above future floods.

Background

Kipling was very interested in the fascinating ways of bees, and kept some hives at Bateman's. The River Dudwell, which runs through his garden, is liable to flood, which was clearly what happened in this sad episode.

He wrote a number of times about bees. In "The Vortex" (1917), the story linked to this poem, a swarm of bees in a box is dropped over a bridge onto a railway platform as a train approaches, bringing hilarious chaos, lovingly described. In "Red Dog" (1895) in The Second Jungle Book Mowgli leads a pack of marauding wild dogs over a cliff, where many of them are stung to death by the savage bees that have lived there for generations. In "The Mother Hive" (1908) in Actions and Reactions, an allegory about British politics, a wax moth gets into a hive, spreading infection and persuading the workers they do not need to work. In "The Bee-boy's Song" (1906) he celebrates the mysterious relationship between a bee-keeper and his charges; and in "The Bees and the Flies" (1908) he writes of the ancient myth that bees could be generated within a slaughtered beast.


Notes on the text


[Verse 1]

outposts small parties of men sent ahead of the main body to look out for the enemy.

guardrooms accommodation for armed parties near the entrance to fort, camp etc.ready for any emergency. See With the Main Guard". (Soldiers Three.)

Amazons a race of female warriors believed by the ancient Greeks to come from Scythia, North of the Black Sea. The worker bees, who gather the honey and protect the hive, are female.

[Verse 3]

mailed in this context wearing armour

sacked plundered, looted.

[Verse 4]

The river the Dudwell runs through Kipling's garden at Bateman's and is liable to flood. See "My Son's Wife" also in "A Diversity of Creatures", and "Below the Mill Dam" in Traffics and Discoveries.

Atlantis a legendary island in the Atlantic Ocean that was thought to have mysteriously disappeared.

The Flood See the story of Noah and the Ark in the Old Testament,
Genesis, Chapters 6 to 9. Kipling drew this picture of the Ark for Just So Srories.

[Verse 6]

plinths in this context the heavy slabs at the base of columns, a good foundation.

[Verse 7]

harsh envenomed virgins though the myriad worker bees, armed with stings, are female, they never mate. Only the Queen can lay eggs.

[Verse 8]

the dark, enduring blood An ancestry capable of great endurance.


[JMcG/JR]

ŠJohn McGivering and John Radcliffe 2018 All rights reserved