The twenty-seventh 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 , here, here, here , here, here, here , here, here , here , here and here.
Two frequent targets of Kipling’s ire over the years was Kaiser Wilhelm, who Kipling viewed as a buffoon and a menace long before World War I, and anything that smacked of socialism. In the poem An Imperial Rescript (1890), Kipling got to attack both his bête noirs when the Kaiser unveiled a program of social reform to “help” working men. I rather think the Kaiser’s heart was in the right place on this occasion, even if his head was not. Kipling viewed the plan as rubbish since most men, the acolytes of Alfred. P Doolittle (see video above) excepted, work for the well-being of their families, a well-being that he thought governments would prove ill-equipped to preserve, and therefore they would work as hard as they were able for the wife and the kids. It is an arguable point, although Kipling’s view is directly contrary to what passes for the common wisdom of our day, which could mean that Kipling might very well be correct!
Now this is the tale of the Council the German Kaiser decreed, To ease the strong of their burden, to help the weak in their need, He sent a word to the peoples, who struggle, and pant, and sweat, That the straw might be counted fairly and the tally of bricks be set. The Lords of Their Hands assembled; from the East and the West they drew -- Baltimore, Lille, and Essen, Brummagem, Clyde, and Crewe. And some were black from the furnace, and some were brown from the soil, And some were blue from the dye-vat; but all were wearied of toil. And the young King said: -- "I have found it, the road to the rest ye seek: The strong shall wait for the weary, the hale shall halt for the weak: With the even tramp of an army where no man breaks from the line, Ye shall march to peace and plenty in the bond of brotherhood -- sign!" The paper lay on the table, the strong heads bowed thereby, And a wail went up from the peoples: -- "Ay, sign -- give rest, for we die!" A hand was stretched to the goose-quill, a fist was cramped to scrawl, When -- the laugh of a blue-eyed maiden ran clear through the Council-hall. And each one heard Her laughing as each one saw Her plain -- Saidie, Mimi, or Olga, Gretchen, or Mary Jane. And the Spirit of Man that is in Him to the light of the vision woke; And the men drew back from the paper, as a Yankee delegate spoke: -- "There's a girl in Jersey City who works on the telephone; We're going to hitch our horses and dig for a house of our own, With gas and water connections, and steam-heat through to the top; And, W. Hohenzollern, I guess I shall work till I drop." And an English delegate thundered: -- "The weak an' the lame be blowed! I've a berth in the Sou'-West workshops, a home in the Wandsworth Road; And till the 'sociation has footed my buryin' bill, I work for the kids an' the missus. Pull up? I be damned if I will!" And over the German benches the bearded whisper ran: -- "Lager, der girls und der dollars, dey makes or dey breaks a man. If Schmitt haf collared der dollars, he collars der girl deremit; But if Schmitt bust in der pizness, we collars der girl from Schmitt." They passed one resolution: -- "Your sub-committee believe You can lighten the curse of Adam when you've lifted the curse of Eve. But till we are built like angels -- with hammer and chisel and pen, We will work for ourself and a woman, for ever and ever, amen." Now this is the tale of the Council the German Kaiser held -- The day that they razored the Grindstone, the day that the Cat was belled, The day of the Figs from Thistles, the day of the Twisted Sands, The day that the laugh of a maiden made light of the Lords of Their Hands.