Kipling and the Yanks

Thursday, May 3, AD 2012

The tenth in my ongoing series examining the poetry of Rudyard Kipling.   The other posts in the series may be read here, here , here , herehere , here ,here, here and here.  Rudyard Kipling had an intensely ambivalent attitude towards America and Americans.  His wife was an American and he and she after their marriage resided in Vermont from 1892-1896.  The Kiplings loved Vermont, Rudyard Kipling especially loving the rugged natural beauty of the Green Mountain State. but eventually returned to England due to a now forgotten diplomatic squabble between the US and Great Britain over the boundary between Venezuela and British Guiana and which led to the last talk of war between those two nations, and a family squabble involving some of Kipling’s wife’s relatives.

Kipling admired American energy and inventiveness, but hated traditional American antipathy to Britain and what he regarded as a boorishness that afflicted many Americans.  This ambivalence is well reflected in the poem American Rebellion which appeared in A School History of England (1911) by C. R. L. Fletcher and Kipling.  The poem is in two strikingly different sections.  Here is the first section:


TWAS not while England’s sword unsheathed
Put half a world to flight,
Nor while their new-built cities breathed
Secure behind her might;
Not while she poured from Pole to Line
Treasure ships and men–
These worshippers at Freedom’s shrine
They did not quit her then!
Not till their foes were driven forth
By England o’er the main–
Not till the Frenchman from the North
Had gone with shattered Spain;
Not till the clean-swept oceans showed
No hostile flag unrolled,
Did they remember what they owed
To Freedom–and were bold.
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4 Responses to Kipling and the Yanks

  • I admit that I feel about Europeans as you state Kipling felt about Americans. I have a visceral reaction to German and French slights because of US conduct during WWII and through the Marshall Plan.

    I have the same visceral reaction to continued European offenses. While I love the show Top Gear, the shows they have done in the US offend me. They are so pompous and dishonest in their presentation. For example, their treatment of D.C., showing nothing but the worst neighborhoods, galls me.

    I’m not sorry for these feelings for I greatly mistrust a man who does not express pride in and affection for his country. It does Kipling credit to note that, however much he finds merit in Americans and the US, he cannot quite get beyond his gut feeling that England deserved better and that the world would have been a better place if the Empire had stayed together.

    I do not doubt that the world would have been a far better place if it had come entirely under American control after the fall of the Soviet Union. Such is my conceit.

  • I love Top Gear also G-Veg and find it hilarious. Insulting foreigners is part of their act, along with acting like buffoons in general, and I don’t take it personally, as opposed to Mexico:

  • I’ve always thought that a lot of Kipling’s love for America died with his little daughter. It’s natural not to want to hang around a place full of sad memories, whereas a place where you think your kids are going to both grow up is a place you do your best to put down roots. I think politics was an excuse. A deeply felt excuse, maybe, but an excuse.

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