The refrain that ends all but one stanza of Rudyard Kipling’s poem titled “Recessional” essentially exhorts readers not to forget all the various kinds of obligations and loyalties they owe to God. Consider, for example, the poem’s opening stanza:
God of our fathers, known of old --
Lord of our far-flung battle line --
Beneath whose awful hand we hold
Dominion over palm and pine --
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget -- lest we forget!
In the final two lines of this stanza, the speaker asks God to maintain his connection with Britons, who now have a “far-flung” empire under their control. Without a strong connection to God, Britons may forget how much they owe to him and how much they are obligated to abide by his standards in ruling their dominion.
In stanza two, the speaker urges readers not to forget the “ancient sacrifice” (9) God made for them (through the crucifixion of Jesus). Celebrations of the glories of empire should not distract Britons from what should be their supreme loyalty to God.
In the third stanza, the speaker emphasizes the transience of all worldly power, including the ephemerality of empires of the past. Here the refrain urges readers not to forget the fundamental mutability of earthly existence, especially the temporary nature of worldly power.
In stanza four, the speaker urges readers not to forget their more strictly religious obligations to God; they should not become “drunk with power” (19) and behave like heathens. They should act as Christians first and foremost, and so in this stanza the refrain warns readers against forgetting this fundamental aspect of their identities.
Finally, in stanza five, the speaker reviews various kinds of temptations that can lead humans to forget God. These temptations include worship of idols, futile materialism, a vain sense of self-reliance, and uncontrolled pride and foolishness. In this stanza, the speaker departs from the previous refrain. Whereas that refrain had urged human beings not to forget God, the poem’s final line prays that God will not forget the humans who depend on him in so many ways:
Thy Mercy on Thy People, Lord!