NS21: Sir Richard’s song

This is another of Kipling’s “romance of England” songs, the romance in this case taking an unusually literal – and sexual – form.

Anyone committed to a really long view of English history has to contend with a lot of discontinuities, particularly in the earlier parts of the story – population movements, changes of ruler, invasions. In 1066, England had to deal with “a French bastard landing with an armed Banditti and establishing himself king of England against the consent of the natives”, in Thomas Payne’s blunt formulation; within a couple of hundred years, the descendants of those same bandits were high-ranking landed gentry, none more English.

What had happened? One answer would be that the new ruling class had remoulded what it meant to be English in their own image, just as they had changed the language. Another answer – Kipling’s – is that the invaders had become English. Sir Richard’s song is about the moment when this starts to happen: when a Norman baron realises that he is no longer taking from England; instead, England has taken him. The phrase, obsessively repeated, has definite sexual overtones, which are entirely in keeping with the rest of the poem: what has taken Sir Richard is not the charm of the English countryside but the love of an English (Anglo-Saxon) woman. He’s helplessly besotted with her, and by extension with the country itself: a vividly appropriate image for the passion Kipling seems to have felt for England, or his idea of England.

Howe’er so great man’s strength be reckoned,
There are two things he cannot flee.
Love is the first, and Death is the second –
And Love in England has taken me!

The zither accompaniment is based loosely on Bellamy’s guitar accompaniment on Oak, Ash and Thorn (although it’s not played live, as you can tell). The flutes were inspired by Peter Gabriel’s “Here comes the flood”.

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Filed under not a folk song, Peter Bellamy, Rudyard Kipling

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