The Burden of Jerusalem

Rudyard Kipling

A practically unknown poem by Rudyard Kipling which Winston Churchill strove to keep secret. A copy of the unpublished private edition was given to Franklin Delano Roosevelt in October 1943, with instructions not to make the gift public. ‘The Burden of Jerusalem’ is reproduced here with the same punctuation and in the same format as it appeared in the privately bound volume.

I was working through files from the Roosevelt library (, which has a large amount of letters online, when I noticed this by Churchill:

I was immediately intrigued and wondered what it was that Churchill didn’t want to be made public. I looked around the net and the only reference I could find was in usenet where some silly people had mentioned the Poems and they seem to have appeared in a Christopher Hitchens book about 1990. I emailed some Kipling people and one was kind enough to post me photocopies from one of the copies of them, talked about in the Churchill-Roosevelt correspondence, that he possessed. I think this is the first time the poems [with ‘A Chapter of Proverbs’] have appeared in full online. The majority of Kipling fans seem to be in ignorance of their existence and I am not sure if they have appeared elsewhere in print since 1990. I think their historical importance is clear.

David Noone

14 October 1943, Webb-Johnson to FDR: (Page 1) (Page 2)

17 October 1943, Churchill to FDR:

25 October 1943, FDR to Webb-Johnson:

25 October 1943, FDR to Churchill:

To follow “The Peace of Dives.”


But Abram said unto Sarai, “Behold
thy maid is in thy hand. Do to
her as it pleaseth thee.” And
when Sarai dealt hardly with her
she fled from her face.
                 Genesis XVI.6.

In ancient days
     and deserts wild
There rose a feud –
     still unsubdued –
’Twixt Sarah’s son
     and Hagar’s child
That centred round Jerusalem.

(While underneath
     the timeless bough
Of Mamre’s oak,
     mid stranger-folk
The Patriarch slumbered
     and his spouse
Nor dreamed about Jerusalem).

For Ashmael lived
     where he was born,
And pastured there
     in tents of hair
Among the Camel
     and the Thorn –
Beersheba, south Jerusalem.

But Israel sought
     employ and food
At Pharoah’s knees,
     till Rameses
Dismissed his plaguey multitude,
     with curses,
Toward Jerusalem.

Across the wilderness
     they came,
And launched their horde
     o’er Jordan’s ford,
And blazed the road
     by sack and flame
To Jebusite Jerusalem.

Then Kings and Judges
     ruled the land,
And did not well by Israel,
     Till Babylonia took a hand,
And drove them from Jerusalem.

And Cyrus sent them back anew,
     To carry on as they had done,
Till angry Titus overthrew
     The fabric of Jerusalem.

Then they were scattered
     north and west,
While each Crusade
     more certain made
That Hagar’s vengeful
     son possessed
Mohamedan Jerusalem.

Where Ishmael held
     his desert state,
And framed a creed
     to serve his need. –
     God is Great!”
He preached it in Jerusalem.

And every realm
     they wandered through
Rose, far or near,
     in hate or fear,
And robbed and tortured,
     chased and slew,
The outcasts of Jerusalem.

So ran their doom –
     half seer, half slave –
And ages passed,
     and at the last
They stood beside
     each tyrant’s grave,
And whispered of Jerusalem.

We do not know
     what God attends
The Unloved Race
     in every place
Where they amass
     their dividends
From Riga to Jerusalem;

But all the course
     of Time makes clear
To everyone
     (except the Hun)
It does not pay to interfere
With Cohen from Jerusalem.

For, ‘neath the Rabbi’s
     curls and fur
(Or scents and rings
     of movie-Kings)
The aloof,
     unleavened blood of Ur,
Broods steadfast on Jerusalem.

Where Ishmael bides
     in his own place –
A robber bold,
     as was foretold,
To stand before
     his brother’s face –
The wolf without Jerusalem:

And burthened Gentiles
     o’er the main
Must bear the weight
     of Israel’s hate
Because he is not
     brought again
In triumph to Jerusalem.

Yet he who bred the
     unending strife
And was not brave
     enough to save
The Bondsmaid from
     the furious wife,
He wrought thy woe, Jerusalem!

The privately published volumes containing ‘Burden’ are not described in any of the four existing bibliographies of Rudyard Kipling (Martindell, Livingston, Ballard or Stewart-Yeats). The following is by David Richards, an American Kipling collector and the author of a new bibliography of Rudyard Kipling, to be published by Oak Knoll Press in 2006.

I have a little privately bound typescript book, supposedly (and I believe) printed by Alfred Webb-Johnson, who operated on Kipling in October 1931, and is said to have “edited” ‘Something of Myself’ (a claim doubted by Professor Pinney, as I remember). This book, a small 8vo titled in gilt only on the spine and bound in dark blue half-calf with marble endpapers, is comprised of 16 leaves. ‘The Burden of Jerusalem’ is leaves 4-8, and ‘A Chapter of Proverbs’ is leaves 9-13, with 32 numbered proverbs, ending with the note “An unpublished item by Rudyard Kipling, and given to me by Mrs. Kipling. Copy in the British Museum.” This is followed by Webb-Johnson’s signature. ‘The Burden of Jerusalem’ is present in the British Library (BL Add MS 45680 f. 155-56, typescript, two leaves, rectos only, seventeen 4-line stanzas, annotated “to follow ‘The Peace of Dives’”) in a typescript copy with a letter from Webb-Johnson dated 12 August 1940 saying that the poem was meant for publication but withheld by Mrs. Kipling. There is another copy at the Royal College of Surgeons, with ‘A Chapter of Proverbs’ and bound with correspondence regarding these items (Webb-Johnson to Winston Churchill, 28 July 1943; Churchill to Webb-Johnson, 1 August 1943 and 12 October 1943, and a copy of a letter from Webb-Johnson to Franklin Roosevelt, 14 October 1943).

The first letter to Churchill states that Webb-Johnson had given copies of ‘The Burden of Jerusalem’ to Queen Mary and the British Library, and there are copies in the Churchill College Cambridge and Roosevelt (Hyde Park NY) Libraries. ‘A Chapter of Proverbs’ is also among the Kipling Papers at Sussex University (25/4). The Royal Library, Windsor, contains a calligraphic MS of ‘Burden,’ including an epigraph from Genesis, made for Webb-Johnson as a birthday present for Queen Mary, transcribed in 1914 from a copy sent to Webb-Johnson by Carrie Kipling. Stanzas 1 and 14 were first published in Carrington’s biography of Kipling in 1955, at p. 498, and are reprinted in Harbord, Verse No. 1163, as ‘Jews or Jews and Arabs.’ ‘Burden’ was first formally published in Lord Birkenhead’s biography of Kipling in 1978. Hitchens is the first to publish ‘A Chapter of Proverbs’ in a trade edition.

Another copy of what I have, bound in red morocco, was included as item (iv) in item 1 in Maggs 1994 Rudyard Kipling catalogue, with Webb-Johnson’s papers, including a letter from Churchill to Webb-Johnson suggesting that another Kipling poem contained in this little book, entitled ‘President Wilson,’ be destroyed as “derogatory” and unworthy of Kipling’s reputation. (On the Wilson piece, see the Kipling Journal 3/82, p. 46, and KJ 6/82, p. 38.)

David Alan Richards
New York

‘The Burden of Jerusalem’ appears in slightly edited form in Christopher Hitchens, Blood, Class, and Nostalgia: Anglo-American Ironies, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York), 1990, pp. 86-88. Here it is reproduced exactly as it appears in the original, privately published volume held by David Richards. (An instance of “Ashmael” instead of “Ishmael” and apparent punctuation errors appear in the original.)

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