I have always been a great fan of the poetry of Kipling. It is fun to recite and often has a fair amount of wisdom. Too often Kipling is simply written off as a pro-imperialist poet and relegated to the past along with the British Empire. He was certainly a loyal Brit and an advocate of the Empire, but there was much more to him than that. Refusing honor after honor, including being poet laureate of Great Britain, he always retained his independence to give loving criticism to his country. For example, in 1897 at the time of the diamond jubilee of Queen Victoria, he wrote the poem Recessional which envisioned a time when Great Britain would have lost its Empire and its power:
Far-called, our navies melt away;
On dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet.
Lest we forget—lest we forget!
Kipling realized that power was never an end itself and that Great Britain would be judged by God and History not by how much power it amassed, but by what the British did with their power. Continue reading
May 19, 1780 was a memorable one in the history of New England. Darkness descended for several hours in New England and parts of New York. The cause of the darkness has been blamed on everything from volcanoes to dust storms. The most commonly accepted explanation today is that the darkness was caused by forest fires. An excellent overview of the Dark Day and its possible causes is presented by John Horrigan here.
Darkness in the middle of the day of course caused quite a bit of alarm, with more than a few people thinking that the Day of Judgment had arrived. In the Connecticut legislature a motion to adjourn was proposed and passed. Members of the Council of Safety of the legislature wanted to go to their homes. Senator Abraham Davenport would have none of it. “The day of judgment is either approaching, or it is not. If it is not, there is no cause of an adjournment: if it is, I choose to be found doing my duty. I wish therefore that candles may be brought.” John Greenleaf Whittier immortalized this archetypal stubborn Yankee with this poem: Continue reading
I have never cared for Lord Byron, his poetry or the way he misled his life, with one massive exception. From the first time I read this poem in grammar school it has had immense significance for me.
The Destruction of Sennacherib
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! Continue reading
I have always found this war poem from World War I very moving. The author is “L.W.”, and I have been unable to discover his identity. The poem powerfully reminds us of how easy it is to forget Christ, He who is most important in our brief lives here on Earth.
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.
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so,
For, those, whom thou think’st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,
Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell,
And poppie, or charmes can make us sleepe as well,
And better then thy stroake; why swell’st thou then;
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.
Since the bad joke who happens to be the governor of my state is apparently fond of quoting Kipling, the title to this post is also from Kipling who had very little use for most politicians. A variant of the great poem “If” , much more fitting for Blagojevich, is provided by Claudia Rosett here.
Blagojevich, Chicago’s curse to the state of Illinois, might be more careful in the choice of poets he quotes. Kipling did not think much of the Windy City.
TO THE UNKNOWN WARRIOR
You whom the kings saluted; who refused not
The one great pleasure of ignoble days,
Fame without name and glory without gossip,
Whom no biographer befouls with praise.
Who said of you “Defeated”? In the darkness
The dug-out where the limelight never comes,
Nor the big drum of Barnum’s show can shatter
That vibrant stillness after all the drums.
Though the time comes when every Yankee circus
Can use our soldiers for its sandwich-men,
When those that pay the piper call the tune,
You will not dance. You will not move again.
You will not march for Fatty Arbuckle,
Though he have yet a favourable press,
Tender as San Francisco to St. Francis
Or all the angels of Los Angeles.
They shall not storm the last unfallen fortress,
The lonely castle where uncowed and free,
Dwells the unknown and undefeated warrior
That did alone defeat Publicity.
Say not the struggle naught availeth,
The labour and the wounds are vain,
The enemy faints not, nor faileth,
And as things have been, things remain.
If hopes were dupes, fears may be liars;
It may be, in yon smoke concealed,
Your comrades chase e’en now the fliers,
And, but for you, possess the field.
For while the tired waves, vainly breaking,
Seem here no painful inch to gain,
Far back through creeks and inlets making
Comes silent, flooding in, the main.
And not by eastern windows only,
When daylight comes, comes in the light,
In front the sun climbs slow, how slowly,
But westward, look, the land is bright.
– Arthur Hugh Clough
The Gods of the Copybook Headings
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.