Kipling was not conventionally religious, but religious themes frequently occur in his poetry. Christmas was a theme that Kipling came back to throughout his career, beginning with the poem Christmas in India which he wrote when he was twenty. Eddi’s Service firstappeared in Kipling’s book Rewards and Fairies in 1910 and features a most unusual Christmas midnight mass:
I will be doing my usual post on Lepanto on October 7, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity today to post the above video. Tom Kratman, who does a grand job reading Chesterton’s poem, is a science fiction author and a retired Lieutenant Colonel in the Army. In Lepanto Chesterton captured the spirit of Catholicism at its best in this world, a spirit that can never be beaten no matter the forces arrayed against it.
Going away the most popular monarch in British history was Queen Victoria who reigned 63 years and seven months over the United Kingdom and the British Empire, being acclaimed Empress of India on May 1, 1876. To most of her British subjects she became a mother figure, as her reign went on, particularly in the 1880s and 1890s. After the death of her beloved husband Prince Albert in 1861, shortly after his efforts in toning down a British message to the Lincoln administration during the Trent affair helped avert war between the United States and Great Britain, she put on black mourning which she wore for the remainder of her life. Her relative isolation after that perhaps added to her air of majesty as she became a symbol of her far flung domains encompassing a quarter of the population of the Earth.
Kipling had a fairly ambivalent attitude to the British monarchy, liking them well enough as human beings, but also recognizing the struggle that had been waged throughout English history to gain liberties. The role of British monarchs during Kipling’s life time suited Kipling: they were now out of politics and reigned but did not rule. Kipling had boundless contempt for almost all politicians, calling them little tin gods on wheels, an expression not original to him but which he dearly loved. In his Barrack Room Ballads (1892) Kipling inserted a tribute by a common soldier to the Widow of Windsor:
‘Ave you ‘eard o’ the Widow at Windsor
With a hairy gold crown on ‘er ‘ead?
She ‘as ships on the foam — she ‘as millions at ‘ome,
An’ she pays us poor beggars in red.
(Ow, poor beggars in red!)
There’s ‘er nick on the cavalry ‘orses,
There’s ‘er mark on the medical stores —
An’ ‘er troopers you’ll find with a fair wind be’ind
That takes us to various wars.
(Poor beggars! — barbarious wars!)
Then ‘ere’s to the Widow at Windsor,
An’ ‘ere’s to the stores an’ the guns,
The men an’ the ‘orses what makes up the forces
O’ Missis Victorier’s sons.
(Poor beggars! Victorier’s sons!)
Walk wide o’ the Widow at Windsor,
For ‘alf o’ Creation she owns:
We ‘ave bought ‘er the same with the sword an’ the flame,
An’ we’ve salted it down with our bones.
(Poor beggars! — it’s blue with our bones!)
Hands off o’ the sons o’ the Widow,
Hands off o’ the goods in ‘er shop,
For the Kings must come down an’ the Emperors frown
When the Widow at Windsor says “Stop”!
(Poor beggars! — we’re sent to say “Stop”!)
Then ‘ere’s to the Lodge o’ the Widow,
From the Pole to the Tropics it runs —
To the Lodge that we tile with the rank an’ the file,
An’ open in form with the guns.
(Poor beggars! — it’s always they guns!)
We ‘ave ‘eard o’ the Widow at Windsor,
It’s safest to let ‘er alone:
For ‘er sentries we stand by the sea an’ the land
Wherever the bugles are blown.
(Poor beggars! — an’ don’t we get blown!)
Take ‘old o’ the Wings o’ the Mornin’,
An’ flop round the earth till you’re dead;
But you won’t get away from the tune that they play
To the bloomin’ old rag over’ead.
(Poor beggars! — it’s ‘ot over’ead!)
Then ‘ere’s to the sons o’ the Widow,
Wherever, ‘owever they roam.
‘Ere’s all they desire, an’ if they require
A speedy return to their ‘ome.
(Poor beggars! — they’ll never see ‘ome!)
The thirtieth 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 , here , here, here and here. One of the many reasons to read Kipling is due to how much of his writing stands the test of time. A good example of this is Dane-geld written in 1911. Danegeld was a tax levied by the Kings of Wessex to buy peace with the various invading warbands of Danes in the ninth through the eleventh century. The Danegeld of course convinced the various Danes in Denmark that it was a good idea to invade England, be bought off in gold by a Saxon king and then to settle in England and repeat the process whenever money ran short. One would think that the bad consequences of giving way to such extortion should be obvious, but it is amazing how often this simple lesson has been repeated down the centuries. The Obama administration has paid Danegeld of a sort to various enemies, or would be enemies, of the US, including Iran, Russia, North Korea, thus having the US pay for trouble down the road.
Kipling is not merely to be read for amusement during an idle hour. Read carefully he often has wisdom useful for today. Here is the text of Dane-geld:
All of his life Abraham Lincoln enjoyed poetry and would occasionally compose poetry. In the fall of 1844 he was campaigning for Henry Clay in Clay’s unsuccessful run for the Presidency in southern Indiana and visited the region where he lived as a boy. He told a friend that the terrain was the most unpoetic imaginable, but moved by nostalgia he set pen to paper:
My childhood’s home I see again,
And sadden with the view;
And still, as memory crowds my brain,
There’s pleasure in it too.
O Memory! thou midway world
‘Twixt earth and paradise,
Where things decayed and loved ones lost
In dreamy shadows rise,
And, freed from all that’s earthly vile,
Seem hallowed, pure, and bright,
Like scenes in some enchanted isle
All bathed in liquid light.
As dusky mountains please the eye
When twilight chases day;
As bugle-tones that, passing by,
In distance die away;
As leaving some grand waterfall,
We, lingering, list its roar–
So memory will hallow all
We’ve known, but know no more.
Near twenty years have passed away
Since here I bid farewell
To woods and fields, and scenes of play,
And playmates loved so well.
Where many were, but few remain
Of old familiar things;
But seeing them, to mind again
The lost and absent brings.
The friends I left that parting day,
How changed, as time has sped!
Young childhood grown, strong manhood gray,
And half of all are dead.
I hear the loved survivors tell
How nought from death could save,
Till every sound appears a knell,
And every spot a grave.
I range the fields with pensive tread,
And pace the hollow rooms,
And feel (companion of the dead)
I’m living in the tombs.
The cheapest and most childish of all the taunts of the Pacifists is, I think, the sneer at belligerents for appealing to the God of Battles. It is ludicrously illogical, for we obviously have no right to kill for victory save when we have a right to pray for it. If a war is not a holy war, it is an unholy one — a massacre.
G.K. Chesterton, October 23, 1915
(Rudyard Kipling was born one hundred and fifty years ago yesterday on December 30, 1865. To observe the date I am reposting this post from 2011. On all that I have written about Kipling, and that is now a considerable amount, this is my favorite piece. I would observe in passing that both Chesterton and CS Lewis, although they differed considerably from Kipling’s views on many topics, were both fans of him as a writer.)
The eighth 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 and here. Kipling wrote quite a few poems during his lifetime. Some are world-famous, most are not, and some are today almost completely forgotten. The Holy War (1917) is today one of Kipling’s most obscure poems, but caused something of a stir when he wrote it in Advent during 1917.
A tinker out of Bedford, A vagrant oft in quod, A private under Fairfax, A minister of God– Two hundred years and thirty Ere Armageddon came His single hand portrayed it, And Bunyan was his name!_
He mapped, for those who follow, The world in which we are– ‘This famous town of Mansoul’ That takes the Holy War Her true and traitor people, The gates along her wall, From Eye Gate unto Feel Gate, John Bunyan showed them all.
All enemy divisions, Recruits of every class, And highly-screened positions For flame or poison-gas, The craft that we call modern, The crimes that we call new, John Bunyan had ’em typed and filed In Sixteen Eighty-two
Likewise the Lords of Looseness That hamper faith and works, The Perseverance-Doubters, And Present-Comfort shirks, With brittle intellectuals Who crack beneath a strain– John Bunyan met that helpful set In Charles the Second’s reign.
Emmanuel’s vanguard dying For right and not for rights, My Lord Apollyon lying To the State-kept Stockholmites, The Pope, the swithering Neutrals, The Kaiser and his Gott– Their roles, their goals, their naked souls– He knew and drew the lot.
Now he hath left his quarters, In Bunhill Fields to lie. The wisdom that he taught us Is proven prophecy– One watchword through our armies, One answer from our lands– ‘No dealings with Diabolus As long as Mansoul stands.
_A pedlar from a hovel, The lowest of the low, The father of the Novel, Salvation’s first Defoe, Eight blinded generations Ere Armageddon came, He showed us how to meet it, And Bunyan was his name!_
At one level the poem is a fairly straight-forward paean to John Bunyan, the English writer who penned Pilgrims’s Progress, which every school child used to read back in days when schools spent far more time on academics and far less time on political indoctrination and fake subjects like “Consumer Ed”. He also wrote quite a few other books and pamphlets, perhaps the best known of which is The Holy War, which portrays a war for the City of Mansoul between the good defenders and the evil besiegers. I need not spell out the allegorical meaning of the work when the city’s named is rendered as Man Soul. Kipling had been a devotee of Bunyan since his childhood, and I suppose that part of his motivation in writing the poem was to pay back a literary debt.
Ezra Pound, fascist, anti-Semite, traitor and loon, was still a great poet. I have always admired this poem, not because of the way Christ is portrayed, but the imagination behind it. Christ and the apostles transformed into quasi Viking heroes of a medieval chronicle! All very odd. I am interested in opinions from our readers on the poem and on Pound as a poet. Here is T.S. Eliot on Pound as a poet.
The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold,
And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold;
And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea,
When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee.
Like the leaves of the forest when Summer is green,
That host with their banners at sunset were seen:
Like the leaves of the forest when Autumn hath blown,
That host on the morrow lay withered and strown.
For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast,
And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed;
And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill,
And their hearts but once heaved, and for ever grew still!
And there lay the steed with his nostril all wide,
But through it there rolled not the breath of his pride;
And the foam of his gasping lay white on the turf,
And cold as the spray of the rock-beating surf.
And there lay the rider distorted and pale,
With the dew on his brow, and the rust on his mail:
And the tents were all silent, the banners alone,
The lances unlifted, the trumpet unblown.
And the widows of Ashur are loud in their wail,
And the idols are broke in the temple of Baal;
And the might of the Gentile, unsmote by the sword,
Hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord!
The home raids on conservatives in Wisconsin, go here to read about them, brought this Stephen Vincent Benet poem that he wrote in 1935 to mind. If more people do not stand up when government is run by gangsters this could happen here:
For all those beaten, for the broken heads, The fosterless, the simple, the oppressed, The ghosts in the burning city of our time…
For those taken in rapid cars to the house and beaten By the skillful boys with the rubber fists, -Held down and beaten, the table cutting the loins Or kicked in the groin and left, with the muscles jerking Like a headless hen’s on the floor of the slaughter-house While they brought the next man in with his white eyes staring. For those who still said “Red Front” or “God save the Crown!” And for those who were not courageous But were beaten nevertheless. For those who spit out the bloody stumps of their teeth Quietly in the hall, Sleep well on stone or iron, watch for the time And kill the guard in the privy before they die, Those with the deep-socketed eyes and the lamp burning.
For those who carry the scars, who walk lame – for those Whose nameless graves are made in the prison-yard And the earth smoothed back before the morning and the lime scattered.
For those slain at once. For those living through the months and years Enduring, watching, hoping, going each day To the work or the queue for meat or the secret club, Living meanwhile, begetting children, smuggling guns, And found and killed at the end like rats in a drain.
For those escaping Incredibly into exile and wandering there. For those who live in the small rooms of foreign cities And who yet think of the country, the long green grass, The childhood voices, the language, the way wind smelt then, The shape of rooms, the coffee drunk at the table, The talk with friends, the loved city, the waiter’s face, The gravestones, with the name, where they will not lie Nor in any of that earth. Their children are strangers.
For those who planned and were leaders and were beaten And for those, humble and stupid, who had no plan But were denounced, but were angry, but told a joke, But could not explain, but were sent away to the camp, But had their bodies shipped back in the sealed coffins, “Died of pneumonia.” “Died trying to escape.”
For those growers of wheat who were shot by their own wheat-stacks, For those growers of bread who were sent to the ice-locked wastes. And their flesh remembers the fields.
For those denounced by their smug, horrible children For a peppermint-star and the praise of the Perfect State, For all those strangled, gelded or merely starved To make perfect states; for the priest hanged in his cassock, The Jew with his chest crushed in and his eyes dying, The revolutionist lynched by the private guards To make perfect states, in the names of the perfect states.
For those betrayed by the neigbours they shook hands with And for the traitors, sitting in the hard chair With the loose sweat crawling their hair and their fingers restless As they tell the street and the house and the man’s name. And for those sitting at the table in the house With the lamp lit and the plates and the smell of food, Talking so quietly; when they hear the cars And the knock at the door, and they look at each other quickly And the woman goes to the door with a stiff face, Smoothing her dress. “We are all good citizens here. We believe in the Perfect State.”
And that was the last time Tony or Karl or Shorty came to the house And the family was liquidated later. It was the last time. We heard the shots in the night But nobody knew next day what the trouble was And a man must go to his work. So I didn’t see him For three days, then, and me near out of my mind And all the patrols on the streets with their dirty guns And when he came back, he looked drunk, and the blood was on him.
For the women who mourn their dead in the secret night, For the children taught to keep quiet, the old children, The children spat-on at school. For the wrecked laboratory, The gutted house, the dunged picture, the pissed-in well The naked corpse of Knowledge flung in the square And no man lifting a hand and no man speaking.
For the cold of the pistol-butt and the bullet’s heat, For the ropes that choke, the manacles that bind, The huge voice, metal, that lies from a thousand tubes And the stuttering machine-gun that answers all.
For the man crucified on the crossed machine guns Without name, without ressurection, without stars, His dark head heavy with death and his flesh long sour With the smell of his many prisons – John Smith, John Doe, John Nobody – oh, crack your mind for his name! Faceless as water, naked as the dust, Dishonored as the earth the gas-shells poison And barbarous with portent. This is he. This is the man they ate at the green table Putting their gloves on ere they touched the meat. This is the fruit of war, the fruit of peace, The ripeness of invention, the new lamb, The answer to the wisdom of the wise. And still he hangs, and still he will not die And still, on the steel city of our years The light falls and the terrible blood streams down.
We thought we were done with these things but we were wrong. We thought, because we had power, we had wisdom. We thought the long train would run to the end of Time. We thought the light would increase. Now the long train stands derailed and the bandits loot it. Now the boar and the asp have power in our time. Now the night rolls back on the West and the night is solid. Our fathers and ourselves sowed dragon’s teeth.
Something for the weekend. I Am a Rebel Soldier sung by Waylon Jennings. Stephen Vincent Benet in his epic poem on the Civil War, John Brown’s Body, follows, in part of his poem, a Confederate Georia cavalry unit in the Army of Northern Virginia, the Black Horse Troop. On the way to Appomattox they met their destiny guarding the rear of their expiring Army. I have always thought this was a fitting tribute to the men of that Army who endured to the end.
Wingate wearily tried to goad
A bag of bones on a muddy road
Under the grey and April sky
While Bristol hummed in his irony
“If you want a good time, jine the cavalry!
Well, we jined it, and here we go,
The last event in the circus-show,
The bareback boys in the burnin’ hoop
Mounted on cases of chicken-croup,
The rovin’ remains of the Black Horse Troop!
Though the only horse you could call real black
Is the horsefly sittin’ on Shepley’s back,
But, women and children, do not fear,
They’ll feed the lions and us, next year.
And, women and children, dry your eyes,
The Southern gentleman never dies.
He just lives on by his strength of will
Like a damn ole rooster too tough to kill
Or a brand-new government dollar-bill
That you can use for a trousers-patch
Or lightin’ a fire, if you’ve got a match,
Or makin’ a bunny a paper collar,
Or anythin’ else–except a dollar.
Old folks, young folks, never you care,
The Yanks are here and the Yanks are there,
But no Southern gentleman knows despair.
He just goes on in his usual way,
Eatin’ a meal every fifteenth day
And showin’ such skill in his change of base
That he never gets time to wash his face
While he fights with a fury you’d seldom find
Except in a Home for the Crippled Blind,
And can whip five Yanks with a palmleaf hat,
Only the Yanks won’t fight like that.
Tragic is the only word to describe the life of Vachel Lindsay. Perhaps the greatest of the poets of Illinois, he deserves his appellation the Prairie Troubador, his life was haunted by mental instability and money woes. He committed suicide at age 52 in 1931 by drinking a bottle of Lysol. His last words indicated the paranoia that beset him at the end: “They tried to get me; I got them first!”
A sad life, but a great talent. In 1914, anguished by the outbreak of World War I, he wrote this haunting homage to Lincoln:
Kipling will always be remembered as a British patriot and a lover of the British Empire. Both of those facts are true enough, although Kipling was not blind to the faults of his nation and its empire, but Kipling also had the ability, shared by some true great artists, to step momentarily outside his time and place to make some imperishable commentary on the human condition. Kipling did it in his poem Recessional, written on the occasion of Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee, which rather than a rah, rah celebration of Great Britain, envisages a time when the glory and power of Britain and its Empire will have passed, one with Nineveh and Tyre, and a stark warning for his British contemporaries to use the power they currently possessed responsibly, and prays to God for mercy upon them. This unexpected Jeremiad contains what I have always regarded as the most moving lines of poetry ever written by a secular poet:
The tumult and the shouting dies;
The Captains and the Kings depart:
Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
An humble and a contrite heart.
Kipling returned to the theme of the transitory nature of earthly power in Puck of Pook’s Hill, 1906. Ostensibly a children’s book combining History and Fantasy, Kipling put into it some of his deepest thinking on many subjects, including the poem Cities and Thrones and Powers which reminds us of the the fact that on this globe civilizations rise and fall like the flowers that bloom and die, but that like flowers the civilizations return in new guises:
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!"
But because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold, not hot, I will begin to vomit thee out of my mouth.
The twenty-sixth 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 and here. For a man who was not conventionally religious, it is surprising how many of Kipling’s poems deal with religious themes. Here he deals with the fate of the soul of Tomlinson who floated through life and did almost no good and almost no ill. He fits to the full T.S. Eliot’s hollow men and CS Lewis’s chestless men.
CS Lewis in his essay Screwtape Proposes a Toast in 1959 tells us how common this type of individual is in the modern world:
Kipling wrote Tomlinson in 1891 and unfortunately his Tomlinson was a forerunner of a type all too common today. God did not bring us into this world so we could spend our days in indifference and ennui, wasting both our time and our lives. The poem has a comedic tone, but I have always regarded it as perhaps Kipling’s most damning indictment of his time and ours.
Now Tomlinson gave up the ghost in his house in Berkeley Square, And a Spirit came to his bedside and gripped him by the hair — A Spirit gripped him by the hair and carried him far away, Till he heard as the roar of a rain-fed ford the roar of the Milky Way: Till he heard the roar of the Milky Way die down and drone and cease, And they came to the Gate within the Wall where Peter holds the keys.
Hope’s forlorn-hopes that plant the desperate good
For nobler Earths and days of manlier mood;
James Russell Lowell
Memoriae Positum, memory laid down. The Latin phrase is a good short hand description of what History accomplishes. In 1864 the poet James Russell Lowell wrote a poem entitled Memoriae Positum in tribute to Colonel Robert Gould Shaw who died heroically at age 25 leading the unsuccessful assault of the 54th Massachusetts, one of the first black Union regiments, on the Confederate stronghold of Fort Wagner at Charleston, South Carolina on July 18th, 1863. The poem predicts that Shaw’s memory will live forever and feels sorrow only for those, unlike Shaw, who are unwilling or unable to risk all for their beliefs. It is a poem completely out of step with the predominant sentiments of our day which seem to value physical survival and enjoyment above everything else. Here is the text of the poem:
The twenty-fifth 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 and here. Kipling often wrote in his poems about the British Army and celebrated the courage and endurance of the average British soldier. However, he never romanticized war, viewing it as a dirty, albeit often necessary, business. Few poems have better illustrated the endless tedium and ennui of war better than the poem Boots written in 1903 after the Boer War had concluded. The use of repetition in the poem skillfully conveys an endless and exhausting march. Ironically, it was set to music and a poem about the tedium of military service became a music hall favorite.