C’est magnifique, mais ce n’est pas la guerre! (It is magnificent but it is not war!)
Comment of French Mashal Pierre Bosquet on the charge of the light brigade
The nineteenth 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 and here. Kipling throughout his career always had a soft spot in his heart for the common British soldier. Soldiers in Kipling’s youth were regarded at worst as common criminals and at best a necessary evil: to be cheered as heroes in time of peril and left to rot in penury in peace time when they were too old to serve. By his poems pointing out the rank ingratitude of this treatment meted out to men who fought for Queen and country, Kipling played a large role in changing civilian attitudes toward the military and improving the lives of the “Tommys”.
One of his most searing poems on this subject was The Last of the Light Brigade.
The British have produced some of the great captains of History, Marlborough and Wellington quickly come to mind. However, a more common theme in British military history is the courage of common soldiers redeeming with their blood the mistakes of their generals. Few conflicts better exemplify this than the Crimean War. Fought between 1853-1856, the war consisted of France, Great Britain, the Ottoman Empire and the Kingdom of Sardinia (prior to it growing to encompass all Italy) against Russia. The causes of the war boiled down to the fact that the Ottoman Empire was in a state of rapid decay and France and Russia were squabbling about which power would have predominance as “protecting power” of the Holy Places in the Holy Land, with the traditional antipathy of Catholics and Orthodox lending fuel to the fire. This fairly meaningless squabble eventually led to war between the Ottoman Empire and Russia with Great Britain and France rallying to The Sick Man of Europe as the Turks were called. Continue reading
The eighteenth 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 and here. Kipling had a very distinctive style, a style which has produced endless poems imitating him. It occasionally amused Kipling to do a poem in the style of some other poet. Between 1904 and 1929 he did a series of short poems in the style of various poets. The subject of the poems was the new horseless carriage. Kipling loved cars, although it is unclear whether he ever drove one himself. Here are a few of the poems in his series The Muse Among the Motors. I will leave to the readers in the comboxes to guess the poet being copied. We will start out with an easy one:
The Justice’s Tale
With them there rode a lustie Engineere
Wel skilled to handel everich waie her geere,
Hee was soe wise ne man colde showe him naught
And out of Paris was hys learnynge brought.
Frontlings mid brazen wheeles and wandes he sat,
And on hys heade he bare an leathern hat.
Hee was soe certaine of his governance, That, by the
Road, he tooke everie chaunce.
For simple people and for lordlings eke
Hee wolde not bate a del but onlie squeeke
Behinde their backes on an horne hie
Until they crope into a piggestie.
He was more wood than bull in china-shoppe,
And yet for cowes and dogges wolde hee stop,
Not our of Marcie but for Preudence-sake–
Than hys dependaunce ever was hys brake. Continue reading
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! Continue reading
The sixteenth 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 and here.
One of the great passions in the life of Kipling was English history. Runnymede was one of several poems on English history he wrote for A School History of England (1911). Another great passion of his was liberty, and in the poem Runnymede, Kipling combined both of these passions. Whenever in English history some great struggle has arisen since 1215 the cry of Magna Carta has usually been raised. The basis of English liberty, the Great Charter has an honored place both in English and American history. To look at Magna Carta with a modern eye is initially to be disappointed, since much of it deals with disputes between his barons and King John which, at first glance, lacks any contemporary relevance. However, the binding of the power of the government, and the restriction of the scope and power of the State, is of crucial importance today, as it is in all times and places. There are passages additionally that do have a contemporary resonance:
(38) In future no official shall place a man on trial upon his own unsupported statement, without producing credible witnesses to the truth of it.
(39) No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land.
(40) To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.
It is no accident that Saint Thomas More referred to the passage in Magna Carta that guarantees the liberty of the Church in his speech after his trial:
That Law was even contrary to the Laws and Statutes of the Kingdom yet unrepealed, as might evidently be seen by Magna Charta, wherein are these Words; Ecclesia Anglicana libera sit, & habet omnia jura integra, & libertates suas illcesas: And it is contrary also to that sacred Oath which the King’s Majesty himself, and every other Christian Prince, always take with great Solemnity, at their Coronations. Continue reading
The thirteenth 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 and here. I have noted several times in this series that Kipling was not conventionally religious, yet many of his poems dealt with religious themes. One of his lesser known poems, Cold Iron, written in 1910, I have always found personally very moving.
Gold is for the mistress — silver for the maid –
Copper for the craftsman cunning at his trade.”
”Good!” said the Baron, sitting in his hall,
”But Iron — Cold Iron — is master of them all.”
So he made rebellion ‘gainst the King his liege,
Camped before his citadel and summoned it to siege.
”Nay!” said the cannoneer on the castle wall,
”But Iron — Cold Iron — shall be master of you all!”
Woe for the Baron and his knights so strong,
When the cruel cannon-balls laid ‘em all along;
He was taken prisoner, he was cast in thrall,
And Iron — Cold Iron — was master of it all!
Yet his King spake kindly (ah, how kind a Lord!)
”What if I release thee now and give thee back thy sword?”
”Nay!” said the Baron, “mock not at my fall,
For Iron — Cold Iron — is master of men all.”
“Tears are for the craven, prayers are for the clown –
Halters for the silly neck that cannot keep a crown.”
”As my loss is grievous, so my hope is small,
For Iron — Cold Iron — must be master of men all!”
Yet his King made answer (few such Kings there be!)
”Here is Bread and here is Wine — sit and sup with me.
Eat and drink in Mary’s Name, the whiles I do recall
How Iron — Cold Iron — can be master of men all!”
He took the Wine and blessed it. He blessed and brake the Bread.
With His own Hands He served Them, and presently He said:
”See! These Hands they pierced with nails, outside My city wall,
Show Iron — Cold Iron — to be master of men all.”
“Wounds are for the desperate, blows are for the strong.
Balm and oil for weary hearts all cut and bruised with wrong.
I forgive thy treason — I redeem thy fall –
For Iron — Cold Iron — must be master of men all!”
“Crowns are for the valiant — sceptres for the bold!
Thrones and powers for mighty men who dare to take and hold!”
”Nay!” said the Baron, kneeling in his hall,
”But Iron — Cold Iron — is master of men all!
Iron out of Calvary is master of men all!” Continue reading
The twelfth 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 and here. Kipling was not conventionally religious. He once described himself jokingly as a pious Christian atheist. However, many of his poems dealt with religious themes. One of his most moving religious poems he wrote in 1932, four years before his death.
At His Execution
I am made all things to all men–
Hebrew, Roman, and Greek–
In each one’s tongue I speak,
Suiting to each my word,
That some may be drawn to the Lord!
I am made all things to all men–
In City or Wilderness
Praising the crafts they profess
That some may be drawn to the Lord–
By any means to my Lord!
Since I was overcome
By that great Light and Word,
I have forgot or forgone
The self men call their own
(Being made all things to all men)
So that I might save some
At such small price to the Lord,
As being all things to all men.
I was made all things to all men,
But now my course is done–
And now is my reward…
Ah, Christ, when I stand at Thy Throne
With those I have drawn to the Lord,
Restore me my self again! Continue reading