"Seven Watchmen"

Dedication to The Years Between


(notes by Geoffrey Annis)

the poem
[January 20th 2011]

Publication history

First published in 1919 as a "Dedication" to The Years Vetween after the collection was completed. Andrew Lycett (p. 661) describes it as 'often overlooked ... a summation of the war-related verses;. It is collected in:
  • Inclusive Verse (1919)
  • Definitive Verse (1940)
  • Sussex Edition Volume 32, p. 195
  • Burwash Edition, Volume 25
  • The Works of Rudyard Kipling, Wordsworth Poetry Library
The Theme

Andrew Lycett (p. 661) notes Kipling’s belief that 'Man should...reject the temporal world...to listen to his inner voice'. Ann Parry (The Poetry of Rudyard Kipling; Rousing the Nation: Oxford 1992 pp. 198 and 112) stresses that 'He was warning against a trust in revelation from above by a faith in leaders who asked people to believe that willing a thing to be so would be enough to make it prevail. .. and the inability of politicians to offer any guidance to humanity'.


In the year after the Great War Kipling was addressing those in authority who were negotiating the Treaty of Versailles with Germany, and, in particular the idealism which had earlier been expressed in President Woodrow Wilson’s peace-without-victory 'Fourteen Points’ speech to the United States Congress on 8 January 1918. This had been an attempt to persuade Germany to surrender.

Amongst its proposals were: equality of trade; agreements based on diplomacy; open covenants of peace, freedom of navigation of the seas, and adjustment of colonial claims in the interests of the people concerned. Kipling, deeply hostile to Germany, believed that the political leaders were ignoring Europe’s past history and endangering its future.

Other poems in the collection express Kipling’s hostility to political decisions with which he violently disagreed,such as “Ulster” and “The Covenant” and the disussions on Irish Home Rule.

Notes on the Text

[Line 1]

The seven watchmen Ann Parry (p.112) suggests that the poem is Kipling’s first example of' inverting the ... traditional understanding of Biblical paradigms and the social and political meaning which was often attached to them.' . Trust yourself, he argues, rather than guidance from above.

The “seven watchmen“ are the seven spirits or angels of sent by God to St John the divine in the Book of Revelation to prophesy what will come to pass.

In many religions, seven is a mystic,symbolic number. In Christianity it is the number of perfection; the day God rested after the Creation,being the sign of the covenant with Adam in the book of Genesis. Jesus spoke seven utterances from the Cross, and there are repeated references to seven in Revelation: the Lamb with seven horns and eyes, the seven seals ,and so on. The idea of the covenant, therefore, may be seen as a deeply ironic allusion to Versailles.

[Line 3]

Showed the Man St John the Divine.

the Glory and the Power an allusion to the Lord’s Prayer (“For Thine is the Kingdom, the Power and the Glory”)

[Line 3]

All things...win you an echo of Revelations 2, 23: 'and I will give unto every one of you according to your works'The meaning of lines 3-5 is expressed in Revelations 5,12: 'worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, riches and wisdom and strength and honour according to your works.'.

[Line 7]

But the Kingdom the poem’s central message is that one needs to trust ones own judgements and listen to one's own inner voice.

[Line 8]

Said the Man... the ordinary man, but the capitalisation suggests Christ. Kipling writes similarly in the almost hagiographical dedicatory poem to Joseph Chamberlain with its refrain: 'Once on a time there was a Man.'

[Line 10]

bitter years before the years before the Great War, and the problems caused by unjustified faith in leaders.

[Line 11]

over-sweetened hour the hour of victory which will also bring problems if there is 'trust in revelation from above.' (See Parry p. 111)


©Geoffrey Annis 2011 All rights reserved