Sunday, November 29, 2015


An immortal poem, which Kipling first published in the pamphlet Three Poems (1911), The Roman Centurion's Song:

Legate, I had the news last night --my cohort ordered home
By ships to Portus Itius and thence by road to Rome.
I've marched the companies aboard, the arms are stowed below:
Now let another take my sword. Command me not to go!

I've served in Britain forty years, from Vectis to the Wall,
I have none other home than this, nor any life at all.
Last night I did not understand, but, now the hour draws near
That calls me to my native land, I feel that land is here.

Here where men say my name was made, here where my work
was done;
Here where my dearest dead are laid--my wife--my wife and
Here where time, custom, grief and toil, age, memory, service,
Have rooted me in British soil. Ah, how can I remove?

For me this land, that sea, these airs, those folk and fields surffice.
What purple Southern pomp can match our changeful Northern
Black with December snows unshed or pearled with August
The clanging arch of steel-grey March, or June's long-lighted

 photo kipling_zpstiajmcke.jpgYou'll follow widening Rhodanus till vine an olive lean
Aslant before the sunny breeze that sweeps Nemausus clean
To Arelate's triple gate; but let me linger on,
Here where our stiff-necked British oaks confront Euroclydon!

You'll take the old Aurelian Road through shore-descending
Where, blue as any peacock's neck, the Tyrrhene Ocean shines.
You'll go where laurel crowns are won, but--will you e'er forget
The scent of hawthorn in the sun, or bracken in the wet?

Let me work here for Britain's sake--at any task you will--
A marsh to drain, a road to make or native troops to drill.
Some Western camp (I know the Pict) or granite Border keep,
Mid seas of heather derelict, where our old messmates sleep.

Legate, I come to you in tears--My cohort ordered home!
I've served in Britain forty years. What should I do in Rome?
Here is my heart, my soul, my mind--the only life I know.
I cannot leave it all behind. Command me not to go!

In the summer of 2013, we spent a week in the Lake District, in Coniston to be precise. On one of our daily outings we intended to go to Muncaster Castle, and I figured I could get there via Hardknott Pass. Very quickly it became clear that going that way would cost us precious hours... and possibly the visit to the castle too since the afternoon was already well advanced.

So we turned back and took the coast road to Muncaster Castle.

But if we had continued, we would have passed the remains of Hardknott Roman Fort, and I feel the centurion in Kipling's poem might well have hailed from here:

 photo hardknott_roman_fort_zpsqgevo7nb.jpg

Hardknott Fort was built between about 120 and 138 during the reign of Emperor Hadrian, but was reportedly abandoned when Emperor Antoninus Pius advanced deeper into Scotland. It was then reoccupied around 200, only to be abandoned again in the last years of the 4th century. The garrison during this latter period would have been a detachment of 500 cavalry of the 6th Cohort of Dalmatians from the Dalmatian coast.

Hat tip for the poem M. Thompson over at CDR Salamander.


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