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“The City of Brass” by Rudyard Kipling,1909


“Here was a people whom after their works
thou shalt see wept over for their lost dominion:
and in this palace is the last information
respecting lords collected in the dust.” –

The Arabian Nights.

In a land that the sand overlays – the ways to her gates are untrod –
A multitude ended their days whose gates were made splendid by God,
Till they grew drunk and were smitten with madness and went to their fall,
And of these is a story written: but Allah Alone knoweth all!

When the wine stirred in their heart their bosoms dilated.
They rose to suppose themselves kings over all things created –
To decree a new earth at a birth without labour or sorrow –
To declare: “We prepare it to-day and inherit to-morrow.”
They chose themselves prophets and priests of minute understanding,
Men swift to see done, and outrun, their extremest commanding –
Of the tribe which describe with a jibe the perversions of Justice –
Panders avowed to the crowd whatsoever its lust is.

Swiftly these pulled down the walls that their fathers had made them –
The impregnable ramparts of old, they razed and relaid them
As playgrounds of pleasure and leisure, with limitless entries,
And havens of rest for the wastrels where once walked the sentries;
And because there was need of more pay for the shouters and marchers,
They disbanded in face of their foemen their yeomen and archers.
They replied to their well-wishers’ fears – to their enemies laughter,
Saying: “Peace! We have fashioned a God Which shall save us hereafter.
We ascribe all dominion to man in his factions conferring,
And have given to numbers the Name of the Wisdom unerring.”

They said: “Who has hate in his soul? Who has envied his neighbour?
Let him arise and control both that man and his labour.”
They said: “Who is eaten by sloth? Whose unthrift has destroyed him?
He shall levy a tribute from all because none have employed him.”
They said: “Who hath toiled, who hath striven, and gathered possession?
Let him be spoiled. He hath given full proof of transgression.”
They said: “Who is irked by the Law? Though we may not remove it.
If he lend us his aid in this raid, we will set him above it!”
So the robber did judgment again upon such as displeased him,
The slayer, too, boasted his slain, and the judges released him.

As for their kinsmen far off, on the skirts of the nation,
They harried all earth to make sure none escaped reprobation.
They awakened unrest for a jest in their newly-won borders,
And jeered at the blood of their brethren betrayed by their orders.
They instructed the ruled to rebel, their rulers to aid them;
And, since such as obeyed them not fell, their Viceroys obeyed them.
When the riotous set them at naught they said: “Praise the upheaval!
For the show and the world and the thought of Dominion is evil!”
They unwound and flung from them with rage, as a rag that defied them,
The imperial gains of the age which their forefathers piled them.
They ran panting in haste to lay waste and embitter forever
The wellsprings of Wisdom and Strengths which are Faith and Endeavour.
They nosed out and digged up and dragged forth and exposed to derision
All doctrine of purpose and worth and restraint and prevision:

And it ceased, and God granted them all things for which they had striven,
And the heart of a beast in the place of a man’s heart was given. . . .

. . . . . . . .

When they were fullest of wine and most flagrant in error,
Out of the sea rose a sign – out of Heaven a terror.
Then they saw, then they heard, then they knew – for none troubled to hide it,
A host had prepared their destruction, but still they denied it.
They denied what they dared not abide if it came to the trail;
But the Sword that was forged while they lied did not heed their denial.
It drove home, and no time was allowed to the crowd that was driven.
The preposterous-minded were cowed – they thought time would be given.
There was no need of a steed nor a lance to pursue them;
It was decreed their own deed, and not a chance, should undo them.
The tares they had laughingly sown were ripe to the reaping.
The trust they had leagued to disown was removed from their keeping.
The eaters of other men’s bread, the exempted from hardship,
The excusers of impotence fled, abdicating their wardship,
For the hate they had taught through the State brought the State no defender,
And it passed from the roll of the Nations in headlong surrender!

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Kevin in PA February 18, 2021, 9:11 AM

    Once again, Gerard, you have demonstrated your depth of knowledge and broadness of scope. I thank you for increasing my curiosity about poetry.

    As to the Kipling poem, it is my first time reading it and it hits like a brick to the gut. Wow. A profound testament that there is much weight to the saying- “there is nothing new under the sun.”

    The poem rings so true for America today as it surely must have for any thinking subject of Britain 100 years ago.
    I did find this link that analyzes the poem; http://www.kiplingsociety.co.uk/rg_cityofbrass1.htm

  • SoylentGreen February 18, 2021, 9:32 AM

    Amazingly prophetic for our time, yet timeless. This is the rise and fall of mighty kings, cities and civilizations. Interestingly, most of the hits on the internet are at best, trashing this poem as well as Rudyard Kipling and at worst, not even mentioning its existence (as in Wiki). Satan sees his most brittle cracks and attempts to hide them and has been doing so for ages.

  • SoylentGreen February 18, 2021, 9:36 AM

    Kevin in PA: Thanks for the link! That’s what I was looking for.

  • Kevin in PA February 18, 2021, 9:44 AM

    oh, and now I am just getting around to watching the vid. Another Big WOW! It is startling.
    Is this how it all ends?

  • Anonymous February 18, 2021, 9:51 AM

    recovering from the virus, walking to downtown from 14th after curfew
    reaching Christopher what little population present thinned, by Houston, gone
    at Canal perhaps a vehicle or two, the tunnel closed, occasionally a delivery bike
    further south, crossing old streets- N Moore St, site of my first NYC job forty years prior
    Franklin, Harrison, Leonard, to Reade- halfway
    before I return north I stop and hear only some machinery running on rooftops
    the streets are clean, abandoned
    absorbing blissful solitude, absorbing blissful silence, I say out loud this can’t last

  • Kevin in PA February 18, 2021, 10:19 AM

    Anon @ 9:51am,

    Last time I was in Manhattan was for birthday lunch, January 2020.
    Since then, I’ve seen video of how quiet everything is and I just have trouble grasping that….It’s New York City, for crying out loud! You know, the city that never sleeps with it sea of humanity, commerce, arts, restaurants….and as you describe, I just can not imagine the streets of Manhattan as if it is some sleepy little town.

    Where I live in PA there are many folks from the city who have second homes here. Many of these people have been here now almost constantly since last Spring, but that can not account for no one on the streets in New York City.
    Where is everyone? Are they all hiding inside their apartments? What businesses remain open? Museums? I’m quite sure Opera, Ballet and Symphony seasons were all cancelled.

    It is all so very strange more than a year into this virus panic – actually, I refer to it as the
    Purgatory of the Rona Frenzy.
    Will it ever end?

  • Tom Hyland February 18, 2021, 10:56 AM

    I subscribed to The New Yorker for maybe 25 years. I let the subscription expire shortly after Obama entered the White House. The magazine became a weekly visit to the liberal septic tank. I haven’t held a copy in my hands in years. I used to see them available for free at the library but the library is closed now, just like New York City. I imagine the printed version must be very slender. No movies, no musicals, no gallery openings, no concerts, no museums, no restaurant reviews. “The Talk of the Town” feature, if it’s still there, is probably crickets.

  • Anonymous February 18, 2021, 11:12 AM

    kevin-

    it’s stark, not sleepy.

    there are still a lot of apartment lights off at night, but not as dense as during the summer.

    I think we’re being conditioned, and whenever we get information, it usually has a hint of silver lining that is removed at the following proclamation.

    end? I don’t know.

    -gwbnyc

  • ghostsniper February 18, 2021, 1:56 PM

    Luvly, innit? In the absence of assholes just about everything is luvly.
    My ride dropped me off at the corner on 101 and I started hoofing it east, and there on the curb was an abandoned short board with a wrecked front truck. I picked it up and figgered I’d fix it when I got to LA and sell it. I got to the top of Lombard and threw that board down and though it required constant coaxing I rode it all the way to the bottom non-stop. Picked the board up, went around the corner heading south, then again, climbed the hill and got back on 101 and kept heading toward el-lay. Scratched one more thing off my list. I’ll prolly never go back.

  • ghostsniper February 18, 2021, 2:01 PM

    Yes, I fixed it. Cherried it out, monster trucks, 9 tone air brush, etc., and gave it to my best friends little brother. 20 years later he and fambly came to FL for a visit and said he still had that board and his 6 yo son was wearing it out. That was 20 years ago, so maybe the son’s son is working it now. From trash to heirloom with barely a thought to the future at the onset.

  • Terry February 18, 2021, 2:12 PM

    Is this a fake video? Where are all the homeless crap on the sidewalk bums? Did they leave with the automobiles, busses and street cars?

    I haven’t been to Frisco by the bay for many years but it certainly appears that the horrendous downtown traffic problem is cured. Was not the Pelosi/Newsome clan in charge of Frisco a while back.

    The lack of people could be a result of rampant Aids and China 19 virus.

  • Jack Crevalle February 18, 2021, 3:32 PM

    Last verse: Sward should be Sword, I’m thinking. Love the poem. Scary.

  • Minta Marie Morze February 18, 2021, 8:45 PM

    As always with Kipling, fascinating.

    Though I know the road before us will be long and arduous, this poem—oddly—gave me hope, and a rare moment of peace.

    We trod a path already known to our kind.

    Thank you, Gerard.

  • Casey Klahn February 19, 2021, 7:11 AM

    Ditto the praise for Kipling, the vid and this post. Ghost’s story is hilarious – loved that. For some unusual reason, my auto dpi on YouTube was 4K, and I had it full screen on my iMac. The blades of the roof fans looked sharp.

    For my part, I found myself wondering if those tiny Omega Man people were wearing their masks properly.

    /sarc.