“The Verdicts”


(1916)

(Notes by Mary Hamer)


the poem
[January 12th 2015]


Publication history

First published in the Daily Telegraph and in the New York Times October 31st 1916 where it was included in a series entitled ‘Destroyers at Jutland’. It was published again that same year when the series was collected, in the volume Sea Warfare. (See Alastair Wilson’s notes on Sea Warfare.)

Collected in:
  • The Years Between (1919)
  • Outward Bound Edition (1919)
  • Inclusive Verse (1919)
  • Definitive Verse (1940)
  • Sussex Edition vol 26 p. 373 and vol 33 p. 392
  • Burwash Edition vols 20 and 26
  • Cambridge Edition (Pinney 2013) p. 1099.
Background

By 1916 the British public had begun to wonder what contribution the navy was making to the war, since the country had invested heavily in it over the previous ten years. Thirteen newspaper articles—in one of which "The Verdicts" first appeared— were written by Kipling following a request from the Admiralty, who needed some press that was positive. "The Verdicts" appeared, untitled, in "The Meaning of Joss" Part III of the four-part series, ‘Destroyers at Jutland’.

The battle of Jutland had been fought between the Royal Navy’s Grand Fleet and the Imperial German Navy’s High Seas Fleet on 31 May and 1 June in the North Sea near Jutland, Denmark, the only full-scale clash of battleships in the war. It was a particularly contentious subject at the time and has continued to be so. Both sides claimed victory but the British lost more ships and more men: 6,784 against German losses of 3,039. The British press were critical of the navy’s failure to force a decisive outcome.

The title, "The Verdicts" in the plural, reflects the controversy provoked by this battle. Kipling himself had enjoyed the company of young men who had fought at Jutland. His warm response to their modest but lively accounts of it helped to form "The Verdicts". (See Alastair Wilson’s note, as above.) He felt that the courage of individuals and the human cost were overlooked in the argument about who had won. It should be remembered that Kipling himself had lost his only son at Loos just over a year before.

These considerations may account for language which seems inflated to today’s readers and may well have done so in earlier years: see ‘heroes’ l.3, ‘demi-gods’ l.4, ‘saviours of mankind’ l.24. The last line of the second stanza, ‘Very grateful for leave’ strikes a more level and realistic note, reflecting Kipling’s happy meals with the young naval officers.


Notes on the text


Title and subtitle

‘(Jutland)’ these were added when the verses were collected in The Years Between. The date, ‘1916’, was added when the poem was collected in the Inclusive Verse of 1919.

Verse 2

stands over till peace is to be kept for later consideration, when the war is over.

Verse 4

Unreckoned a pun, meaning both ‘in uncounted numbers’ but also ‘without the respect that is their due’.

Verse 6

a new-born earth . . . saviours of mankind expresses an undue optimism that was probably forced and did not describe the aftermath of WW1.


[M.H.]

©Mary Hamer 2015 All rights reserved