Kipling’s Commentary on the Age of Obama

The seventeenth in my ongoing series examining the poetry of Rudyard Kipling. The other posts in the series may be read here, here , here , here here , here, here, here, here, here, here, here , here, here, here and  here.   Throughout his life Kipling was ever the foe of cant, especially when the cant was dressed up as the latest new thing.  In 1919 he aimed his poetic skills at various latest new things in the modern world that Kipling realized were very old bad ideas dressed up with jargon and sold to the gullible.  His poem The Gods of the Copybook Headings reads like a current commentary on our predicament, and more is the pity.

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!

Kipling begins his poem by contrasting the Gods of the Market Place from the Gods of the Copybook  Headings.   These two groups could be translated as the Gods of Idiot Schemes vs. the Gods of Common Sense.  Note that Kipling takes an eagle eye view of all of history as he proceeds through the poem.

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.

The Gods of the Copybook Headings in the next stanza are shown teaching some basic truths, but since these truths do not accord with some of the buzzwords, and the foggy thinking behind them, commonplace to Kipling’s day and ours, humanity, most of it, turns its collective back on these purveyors of simple timeless verities.

 

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.

Kipling next repeats one of those timeless verities.  As is the case with individuals so it is with societies:  too much folly and the consequences tend to be dire indeed.

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.

Kipling next tells us that life tends to be a battle between wishful thinking and reality, and that those who promote wishful thinking can often gain quite a large following, at least until the feathers hit the fan.

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.

The congealed wishful thinking that goes by the name pacifism never failed to arouse Kipling’s ire:

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.”

One of the perennial amusing aspects of history is generations that make the “discovery” that sexual promiscuity can be short-term fun, prior to the inevitable appalling  consequences appearing as Kipling accurately describes them.

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.”

Socialism to Kipling was a patently obvious fraud that would end in worthless money and widespread poverty.  History relates that Kipling was resoundingly correct and that most people still paid no attention to this obvious truth.

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.”

History tends to have a self-correcting mechanism for too much human folly: disaster.  Pile enough disasters on a people and they eventually learn, or become one with Nineveh and Tyre.

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.

Alas, the capacity for Man to repeat old errors is infinite.

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;

Unfortunately, I think we are close in the contemporary world to the ending of Kipling’s poem.

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!

 Kyrie eleison.

10 Responses to Kipling’s Commentary on the Age of Obama

  • Awesome . I wish we could read it to Congress

  • I cannot help but think of good men like George Bush and Mitt Romney and the lying, liberal (I repeat myself again) media when I read these lines from “If.”

    “If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools, ”

    Kipling takes “wisdom” from Proverbs.

    “For three things the earth is disquieted, and for four which it cannot bear. For a servant when he reigneth, and a fool when he is filled with meat; for an odious woman when she is married, and an handmaid that is heir to her mistress.” — PROV. XXX. 21-22-23.

    “Three things make earth unquiet
    And four she cannot brook
    The godly Agur counted them
    And put them in a book —
    Those Four Tremendous Curses
    With which mankind is cursed;
    But a Servant when He Reigneth
    Old Agur entered first.

    “An Handmaid that is Mistress
    We need not call upon.
    A Fool when he is full of Meat
    Will fall asleep anon.
    An Odious Woman Married
    May bear a babe and mend;
    But a Servant when He Reigneth
    Is Confusion to the end.

    “His feet are swift to tumult,
    His hands are slow to toil,
    His ears are deaf to reason,
    His lips are loud in broil.
    He knows no use for power
    Except to show his might.
    He gives no heed to judgment
    Unless it prove him right.

    “Because he served a master
    Before his Kingship came,
    And hid in all disaster
    Behind his master’s name,
    So, when his Folly opens
    The unnecessary hells,
    A Servant when He Reigneth
    Throws the blame on some one else.

    “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!”

  • Donald McClarey I know this is not an open thread but reading this (and with the awareness of Coptic Catholics under death sentence for their part in the movie that Obama/ Clinton made famous, building on the work of some mullahs) puts me in mind of something else I have read and I wonder if you would be interested in it.
    http://drsanity.blogspot.com/2006/05/four-pillars-of-socialist-revival-and.html

  • Can we Turn the Tide?

    Our nation is really losing ground.
    Moral values are now seldom found.
    Life is held in such low estate,
    murder is unborn children’s fate

    Our leaders pander to greed and lust.
    God is no longer the one they trust.
    With them in charge of public discourse,
    religion is allowed no recourse.

    Genocide being proposed as a right,
    is an abomination in God’s sight.
    The family is under assail.
    It must be protected without fail.

    Free speech is a vanishing right.
    Protest must be kept out of sight.
    We are governed by a dictator’s hand.
    Liberty is silenced throughout out land.

    The future now rests in our care.
    No way can they silence prayer.
    If everyone will do their share,
    we can depend on God to repair.

    Thank you so much for reminding us of the poetic artistry of Rudyard Kipling.

  • “puts me in mind of something else I have read and I wonder if you would be interested in it.
    http://drsanity.blogspot.com/2006/05/four-pillars-of-socialist-revival-and.html

    Obama comes out of the left of the Democrat party and is a fairly typical specimen. What we are seeing happen to the Democrat party during his Presidency is fairly interesting however, with it going ever further to the left. The Blue Dogs were largely wiped out in 2010 and there are few moderate Democrats left in Congress. While the Democrats now control with an overwhelming predominance blue states like California and Illinois, they have become less competitive in other many states where the GOP controls both the legislature and the state house. I expect this trend to be reflected in the 2014 election with the Republicans strengthening their control in the Red States and the Democrats doing so in the Blue States, with fierce battles being waged in purple states like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

    The Democrats in the most recent election won and have convinced themselves that they can always win nationally by running to the left especially on social issues.

    As a result of all of the foregoing, I anticipate the Democrats morphing into a European style socialist party with election contests becoming increasingly bitter as the parties follow their divergent paths farther from each other.

  • I hope you are right that they will trend further from each other. Some of the discussions I hear from some Republicans now seem to favor becoming more like each other, being for what Democrats are for.

  • Wow. Thank you Donald. Timely indeed.
    As I finished the last stanza an infamous sign came to mind; “Arbeit Macht Frei.”
    Work sets you free.
    Something for those new residents of Auschwitz to ponder.
    Again thanks for this “soul food” from Kipling.

  • “Some of the discussions I hear from some Republicans now seem to favor becoming more like each other, being for what Democrats are for.”

    Parties that have suffered an electoral defeat, especially an unexpected one, often make those type of noises in the aftermath of defeat. I expect nothing to come of it, as is usually the case. The Republican party is a conservative party and draws its strength from conservative voters. That will not change. As the economy slips back into recession next year, and Obama begins the popularity plummet that I anticipate for him as a result, the GOP will regain their nerve and begin looking towards 2014. The party of two term Presidents often get shellacked in the third election cycle of their term, think Bush in 2006, and I suspect that Obama will be looking at a reprise in 2014 of 2010 on a lesser scale.

  • Like Chesterton, Kipling has a sound and prophetic ring, like some others from that era. Its sad that our education institutions has been infected with this rabid socialism, entitlement mentality, and human rights that aren’t, and will take much to reverse. Cataclysims have that effect.

  • The breakdown of our educational system Don has destroyed our memories throughout the Western World of most of what came before circa 1965. A similiar process has been at work within the Church with similar dire consequences.

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