for soprano and piano

Text by Rudyard Kipling

premiered September 26, 2007
Andrea Axelrod, soprano; Paul Trueblood, piano
The Triad, New York

Kipling’s Mesopotamia was written in 1917 in reference to a 1914 British campaign to, among other things, capture Baghdad during World War I. Inspired by the strategic importance of oil fields, the operation had unexpectedly disastrous results due to a lack of understanding of local conditions. The disparity between the military and political theory of the authorities and the daily reality for the troops was striking to Kipling, whose son had died in another ill-conceived battle in 1915.


THEY shall not return to us, the resolute, the young
    The eager and whole-hearted whom we gave:
But the men who left them thriftily to die in their own dung,
   Shall they come with years and honour to the grave?

They shall not return to us, the strong men coldly slain
    In sight of help denied from day to day:
But the men who edged their agonies and chid them in their pain,
   Are they too strong and wise to put away?

Our dead shall not return to us while Day and Night divide
—     Never while the bars of sunset hold.
But the idle-minded overlings who quibbled while they died,
    Shall they thrust for high employments as of old?

Shall we only threaten and be angry for an hour?
    When the storm is ended shall we find
How softly but how swiftly they have sidled back to power
    By the favour and contrivance of their kind?

Even while they soothe us, while they promise large amends,
    Even while they make a show of fear,
Do they call upon their debtors, and take council with their friends,
    To confirm and re-establish each career?

Their lives cannot repay us—their death could not undo—
    The shame that they have laid upon our race.
But the slothfulness that wasted and the arrogance that slew,
    Shall we leave it unabated in its place?

-Rudyard Kipling


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