In Picardy It Was

In Picardy It Was

This week’s poem is “Gethsemane” by Rudyard Kipling and I have chosen it to mark Remembrance Day.

The Garden called Gethsemane
  In Picardy it was,
And there the people came to see
  The English soldiers pass.

Rudyard Kipling (1865—1936)

Poem 294. Gethsemane

The Garden called Gethsemane
  In Picardy it was,
And there the people came to see
  The English soldiers pass.
We used to pass – we used to pass
  Or halt, as it might be,
And ship our masks in case of gas
  Beyond Gethsemane.

The Garden called Gethsemane,
  It held a pretty lass,
But all the time she talked to me
  I prayed my cup might pass.
The officer sat on the chair,
  The men lay on the grass,
And all the time we halted there
  I prayed my cup might pass.

It didn’t pass – it didn’t pass
  It didn’t pass from me.
I drank it when we met the gas
  Beyond Gethsemane!

Rudyard Kipling uses the story of the agony of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane as a metaphor for the apprehension and fear felt by the troops in Picardy as they awaited dispatch to the front during the First World War. The poem is written from the perspective of a private soldier who is dreading the forthcoming conflict.

The first stanza paints the picture of the troops mustering with local French people watching the soldiers drilling and checking their gas masks are ready for use when they reach the front. Picardy is compared with the Gethsemane to emphasise its peaceful and innocuous nature but the hell in store for these men is hinted at by “in case of gas/Beyond Gethsemane”.

The second stanza emphasises the normality of life in Picardy with the “pretty lass” talking to the soldiers and the officer and his men taking their ease as the narrator prays for deliverance from his ineluctable fate. This mirrors the moment when Jesus, having accepted his fate, discovers his disciples asleep around him, apparently insensible to the torture in store for him. We see the parallel between the soldier and Jesus in this moment, as they both pray for escape from torment.

The final stanza confirms that like Jesus, the soldier succumbs to his fate, dying “when we met the gas/Beyond Gethsemane!”—for the soldier, like Jesus, must drink from the cup and suffer betrayal—in Jesus’ case, at the hands of Judas; in the soldier’s case, at the hands of his generals.

Kipling’s reference to the cup references Matthew 26:42: “If this cup cannot pass by, but I must drink it, Your will be done.”

The agony is portrayed in “Jesus Christ Superstar” during the song “Gethsemane” which has been sung by many notable performers during the long history of the musical: Jesus argues with God, desiring to know the reason for this sacrifice but ultimately accepting death without ever really getting one.

God, thy will is hard,
But you hold every card.
I will drink your cup of poison.
Nail me to your cross and break me,
Bleed me, beat me, kill me, take me, now!
Before I change my mind.

from Jesus Christ Superstar “Gethsemane” (lyrics by Tim Rice)

I like this because it follows the pattern of other Kipling poems in having a double meaning, because it is a simple but effective poem, and because it tells the story of a common soldier without glorifying the nature of war.


  • Read about the Agony in the Garden at Wikipedia.
  • Read about the poem at the Kipling Society website.
  • Listen to Jonathan Jones perform the poem on YouTube.
  • Watch Ted Neeley perform “Gethsemane” from the film “Jesus Christ Superstar” on YouTube.