The Gods of the Copybook Headings Provide The Commentary

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AS I PASS through my incarnations in every age and race,
I make my proper prostrations to the Gods of the Market Place.
Peering through reverent fingers I watch them flourish and fall,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings, I notice, outlast them all.

We were living in trees when they met us. They showed us each in turn
That Water would certainly wet us, as Fire would certainly burn:
But we found them lacking in Uplift, Vision and Breadth of Mind,
So we left them to teach the Gorillas while we followed the March of Mankind.

We moved as the Spirit listed. They never altered their pace,
Being neither cloud nor wind-borne like the Gods of the Market Place,
But they always caught up with our progress, and presently word would come
That a tribe had been wiped off its icefield, or the lights had gone out in Rome.

With the Hopes that our World is built on they were utterly out of touch,
They denied that the Moon was Stilton; they denied she was even Dutch;
They denied that Wishes were Horses; they denied that a Pig had Wings;
So we worshipped the Gods of the Market Who promised these beautiful things.

When the Cambrian measures were forming, They promised perpetual peace.
They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.
But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “Stick to the Devil you know.”

On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promised the Fuller Life
(Which started by loving our neighbour and ended by loving his wife)
Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “The Wages of Sin is Death.”

In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “If you don’t work you die.”

Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew
And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true
That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more.

As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool’s bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;

And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!

Rudyard Kipling

9 Responses to The Gods of the Copybook Headings Provide The Commentary

  • “when all men are paid for existing and no man pays for his sin”

    I always have a hard time reading poems and I really don’t know why. Well maybe that speaks to something about me. This definately speaks about what is currently going on…

  • This poem needed the date of publication!! So I looked it up:

    Published in October 1919 when the poet was 53 years old, “The Gods of the Copybook Headings” has proved enduringly popular, despite the fact that copybooks disappeared from schoolrooms in Britain and America during, or shortly after World War 2. A copybook was an exercise book used to practice one’s handwriting in. The pages were blank except for horizontal rulings and a printed specimen of perfect handwriting at the top. You were supposed to copy this specimen all down the page. The specimens were proverbs or quotations, or little commonplace hortatory or admonitory sayings — the ones in the poem illustrate the kind of thing. These were the copybook headings.

  • “… and the burnt Fool’s bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire; …The gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!”

    Rudyard Kipling handles the ‘history repeats itself’ idea without going blue in the face.

    This poem so fits the speech above, mixer included. Our problem doesn’t appear to be debt reduction according to the Copybook, because we have to agree to continue to support results of natural disasters, and then there are those high payroll taxes that prevent us from going to market, then … (how unspeakably base to use this) wages of war (for what battery element) in current news as final emphasis.

    I was glad for the mixer problem on the speaker, but not amused for the 10 minutes.

    I worry about long it will be before some handling of debt reduction (balancing the budget for a CHANGE) happens. Would it be forgotten if London’s events (are they related to other 2011 uprisings?) moved across the ocean.

  • Robert-
    I generally have the same issue. Kipling has always been an exception, starting with “Female of the Species.”

  • “Female of the Species.”

    My late formidable mother’s favorite poem!

  • Well said Hank!

    “His vows are lightly spoken,
    His faith is hard to bind,
    His trust is easy broken,
    He fears his fellow-kind.
    The nearest mob will move him
    To break the pledge he gave –
    Oh, a Servant when he Reigneth
    Is more than ever slave!”

  • Ouch– well struck, Hank, Donald. The line about Throws the blame on some one else. is especially painful in light of that “look what happens when you type ‘obama blames’ into google” thing.

  • I am most impressed, Don, that you found this poem to epitomise the “ramblings” of the Obamessiah.
    I have never read much Kipling, apart from some of his militaristic writings, and his Indian conection – Gunga Din etc.
    But I find,
    “That a dog returns to his vomit, and the sow returns to her mire,
    “And the burnt fools finger bandaged goes wabbling back to the fire.”
    particularly poignant.
    I listened to Obama after I had listened to Michele Bachman.
    “WOW” – what a woman. She leaves Obama for dead – and she never had a teleprompter ;-)

    The US has to get back to its manufacturing and leading design base that made it famous just a few decades ago. Get the design and efficiency right, the price doesn’t matter. Back in the 60′s 70′ sand 80′s the world loved US products. Sure, the cost of labour is critical, but design, quality and efficiency of scale does make a difference. Get rid af the crazy Union control, take a bit of a dip, and ALL the people will benefit.
    (My 2 cents worth)
    The US rating is now the same as NZ – AA+ – its not all bad. :-)
    .

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