The Roman Centurion Speaks

Editor’s Note:  A note from Rob Cain (Stray thoughts).  

I am told that in Kipling’s time of the RAJ, that there were Brits that stayed in India rather than return home.  Kipling himself, was born in India.  Though there are many similarities and differences between Imperial Britain and the Roman Empire, Kipling’s poem (below) has a ring of truth to it.   As there were probably those who decided to stay on after their enlistments ended in India,  there must have been Romans (and there were) who either longed to stay on in Britannica as well.  In keeping with that, from my time in the U.S. Army I have come across Veterans that ‘missed’ their foreign postings, and found ways to say on by taking jobs as civilian contractors, GS’er, or marrying into the local population.  This has been especially true for Germany and South Korea.  Not much changes over the years.  What am I saying?  Not much changes over the centuries. 

The following was taken from Wikipedia.  

This poem has several alternative titles including The Roman Occupation of Britain – A.D. 300.The Roman Centurion SpeaksThe Roman Centurion, and The Centurion’s Song. A recurring topic in Kipling’s writing is that of an “Imperial” which forms an attachment to a colony that equals or surpasses their affection for their homeland.

In A School History of England (1911) it was accompanied by the following explanatory note in the right margin “A Roman Soldier who loves Britain.”

These gentlemen at first talked about exile, shivered and cursed the ‘beastly British climate,’ heated their houses with hot air, and longed to get home to Italy. But many stayed; their duty or their business obliged them to stay: and into them too the spirit of the dear motherland entered, and became a passion. Their children, perhaps never saw Rome; but Rome and Britain had an equal share of their love and devotion, and they, perhaps, thought something like this:—

Centurion’s Song by Rudyard Kipling

Legate, I had the news last night.   My cohort’s ordered home.

By ship 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 son;
Here where time, custom, grief and toil, age, memory, service, love,
Have rooted me in British soil. Ah, how shall I remove?

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

You’ll follow widening Rhodanus till vine and 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!

Youll take the old Aurelian Road through shore-descending pines
Where, blue as any peacocks neck, the Tyrrhene Ocean shines.
Youll go where laurel crowns are won, but will you eer forget
Tre 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!

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