Dirge of the dead sisters

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  • Dirge of the dead sisters

    1. 1. ‘Dirge of the Dead Sisters’ Rudyard Kipling 1902
    2. 2. Context South African War... also called Boer War, or Anglo-boer War (Oct. 11, 1899-May 31, 1902), war fought between Great Britain and the two Boer (Afrikaner) republics--the South African Republic (Transvaal) and the Orange Free State. Although it was the largest and most costly war in which the British engaged between the Napoleonic Wars and World War I, it was fought between wholly unequal protagonists. The total British military strength in South Africa reached nearly 500,000 men, whereas the Boers could muster no more than about 88,000. But the British were fighting in a hostile country over difficult terrain, with long lines of communications, while the Boers, mainly on the defensive, were able to use modern rifle fire to good effect, at a time when attacking forces had no means of overcoming
    3. 3. The farms of Boers and Africans alike were destroyed and the Boer inhabitants of the countryside were rounded up and held in segregated concentration camps. The plight of the Boer women and children in these camps became an international outrage-- more than 20,000 died in the carelessly run, unhygienic camps. Lord Kitchener's drastic and brutal methods slowly paid off. The Boers had unsuccessfully sued for peace in March 1901; finally, they accepted the loss of their independence by the Peace of Vereeniging in May 1902.
    4. 4. In Spring 1900 there was an epidemic of enteric (typhoid) fever, in Bloemfontein, South Africa. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who had volunteered in his capacity as a medical doctor, received his knighthood for his work in the hospitals there. He later claimed that you could smell Bloemfontein before you could see it. During this war twice as many British died of disease as fell to Boer action, largely because the British were inept in avoiding the risks posed by drinking contaminated water.
    5. 5. By June 1900 there were ninety-nine nurses serving with the army in South Africa, nine from the regular Army Nursing Service and fifty-seven from its reserve; while some were recruited locally the remainder travelled out from British colonies such as New Zealand. This was not enough: there were only 9 nurses for the 600 patients at the Wynberg hospital. Once he had relinquished the South African command and returned to England, Lord Roberts was instrumental in forming Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service, so that in future there would be a supply of women who had been vetted and suitably trained on which to draw.
    6. 6. Kipling himself gave evidence to the South African Hospitals Commission on August 1 1900. He had visited a number of hospitals, distributing tobacco and other comforts raised by the sales of his poem “ The Absent-Minded Beggar”. He also took dictation from those who were too ill to write home for themselves. His account of travelling with wounded on a hospital train was published under the title With Number Three, Surgical and Medical, 1900.
    7. 7. At a few points the language of this poem sounds, a touch sentimental, less honest, not quite in focus. (See ‘piteous noble laughter’, ‘thee faces of the Sisters and the glory in their eyes’, ‘patient, wise, and mirthful’) . Kipling himself had endured the ‘Seven Hells’ of delirium during his dangerous illness of 1899 after which he declared that he owed his life to his wife and her nursing:
    8. 8. Glossary of some tricky parts... Title] Dirge lament. Written for the nurses who died while serving in the Anglo-Boer War. [Stanza 1] iron teacups standard military issue, like iron plates, which would not break and need replacing. [Stanza 2] Let us now remember many honourable women a rephrasing of Ecclesiasticus 44,1 ‘Let us now praise famous men’, a phrase also familiar from its repetition in the services of the Anglican church. Here a deliberate emphasis is made on doing the praising now, before memory of the women is lost. [Stanza 3] culvert pipe carrying water. [Stanza 4] Powers of Darkness in Christian usage, a phrase taken from the New Testament to denote the devil and his cohorts, see Luke 22,53, Colossians 1,13. Seven Hells in the Jain cosmos there are seven hells. (Jains also believe that each soul is reborn after death, and that the type of body it inhabits depends on the moral character of its deeds in past lives).
    9. 9. [Stanza 7] Blanket-hidden bodies, flagless according to Conan Doyle coffins were out of the question, and the men were lowered in their brown blankets into shallow graves at the average rate of sixty a day. The military convention of the flag-draped coffin had to be abandoned. Ringed and reeking town surrounded and stinking, see note on Background above. Encampments of hospital tents were set up on the veldt at points outside the town. [Stanza 9] Them that died at Uitvlugt There was an epidemic of plague in Cape Town in 1901-2, when the hospital and isolation camps were situated at Uitflugt on the Cape Flats. Her that fell at Simonstown Mary Kingsley (1862-1900) a writer who combined formidable intelligence with charm and common sense, had been a personal friend of Kipling’s since the early 1890’s. He described her as the bravest woman he ever knew. She had travelled alone in West Africa, living there among the cannibal Fans. Her books of travel had already made her famous when she volunteered to go to the Cape as a hospital nurse. There she died of fever contracted while nursing Boer prisoners who were kept at Simonstown, the naval base down the coast from Cape Town. By her own wish she was buried at sea, her body being first transported on a gun-carriage to the torpedo boat which took it out to sea.
    10. 10. Questioning, Dirge of the Dead Sisters do we feel guilty? Very strong imagery, visual beauty amongst horror of war & disease Who recalls the twilight and the ranged tents in order   (Violet peaks uplifted through the crystal evening air?) And the clink of iron teacups and the piteous, noble laughter, Text   And the faces of the Sisters with the dust upon their hair? (Now and not hereafter, while the breath is in our nostrils,   Now and not hereafter, ere the meaner years go by - Let us now remember many honourable women,   Such as bade us turn again when we were like to die.) A call to remember, let us not forget, a theme in war poetry
    11. 11. Repetition of questioning, throughout poem. Emphasises point & provides rhythmical structure. Who recalls the morning and the thunder through incongruous, you expect wool to be soft, the foothills, shrapnel hard= contradictions of war   (Tufts of fleecy shrapnel strung along the empty plains?) And the sun-scarred Red-Cross coaches creeping guarded to the culvert,   And the faces of the Sisters looking gravely from the trains? Alien landscape for Brits, more than the sun creating scars. (When the days were torment and the nights were clouded terror,   When the Powers of Darkness had dominion on our soul - When we fled consuming through the Seven Hells of Fever,   These put out their hands to us and healed and made us whole.) Typhoid sufferers go through several stages of fever etc, sometimes they would come out of it, usually not
    12. 12. Who recalls the midnight by the bridge's wrecked abutment,   (Autumn rain that rattled like a Maxim on the tin?) And the lightning-dazzled levels and the streaming, straining wagons,   And the faces of the Sisters as they bore the wounded in? (Till the pain was merciful and stunned us into silence -   When each nerve cried out on God that made the misused clay; When the Body triumphed and the last poor shame departed -   These abode our agonies and wiped the sweat away.)
    13. 13. Who recalls the noontide and the funerals through the market,   (Blanket-hidden bodies, flagless, followed by the flies?) And the footsore firing-party, and the dust and stench and staleness,   And the faces of the Sisters and the glory in their eyes? (Bold behind the battle, in the open camp all- hallowed,   Patient, wise, and mirthful in the ringed and reeking town, These endured unresting till they rested from their labours -   Little wasted bodies, ah, so light to lower down!)
    14. 14. Yet their graves are scattered and their names are clean forgotten,   Earth shall not remember, but the Waiting Angel knows Them who died at Uitvlugt when the plague was on the city -   Her that fell at Simon's Town' in service on our foes.
    15. 15. Why was ‘Dirge of the Dead sisters’ written? What point was Kipling trying to make? Does it have any resonance today?
    16. 16. Why was it written? This poem is written to commemorate the Nurses who died in the South African War/Boer war. Kipling wrote this poem when he went to South Africa as a journalist. For the first time doubt had entered his mind about military supremacy as he watched first hand the affects of war. In the first stanza Kipling asks "Who recalls the.... Faces of the Sisters with the dust upon their hair?" He asks this because the answer would most likely be very few people, when the true hero's in the war were actually heroines such as the nurses that followed in the path that Florence Nightingale had set them. Unlike Lord Kitchener who took the ‘glory’ for his military persistence. Kipling continues by describing the gory corpses "Blanket- hidden bodies, flagless, followed by the flies", by flagless he means undefined, no longer soldiers fighting for their country, but corpses awaiting their burial.
    17. 17. It remains rare for the work performed by nurses in time of war to receive such public commemoration. Apparently written specifically for The Five Nations. Collected in I.V. 1919, D.V. 1940, the Sussex Edition vol. 33 and the Burwash Edition, vol. 26. For the Sussex Edition Kipling added a subscript in ‘For the nurses who explanation. died during the South African War’
    18. 18. Useful Websites for more http://www.kipling.org.uk http:// www.kipling.org.uk/ rg_dirge1. http:// www.boerwarnurses.com/ background.shtml

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