Rudyard Kipling

But Is It Art?

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When the flush of a newborn sun fell first on Eden’s green and gold,  
Our father Adam sat under the Tree and scratched with a stick in the mold;  
And the first rude sketch that the world had seen was joy to his mighty heart,  
Till the Devil whispered behind the leaves: “It’s pretty, but is it Art?”  
  
Wherefore he called to his wife and fled to fashion his work anew—
The first of his race who cared a fig for the first, most dread review;  
And he left his lore to the use of his sons—and that was a glorious gain  
When the Devil chuckled: “Is it Art?” in the ear of the branded Cain.  
  
They builded a tower to shiver the sky and wrench the stars apart,  
Till the Devil grunted behind the bricks: “It’s striking, but is it Art?”
The stone was dropped by the quarry-side, and the idle derrick swung,  
While each man talked of the aims of art, and each in an alien tongue.  
  
They fought and they talked in the north and the south, they talked and they fought in the west,
Till the waters rose on the jabbering land, and the poor Red Clay had rest—  
Had rest till the dank blank-canvas dawn when the dove was preened to start, 
And the Devil bubbled below the keel: “It’s human, but is it Art?”  
  
The tale is old as the Eden Tree—as new as the new-cut tooth—  
For each man knows ere his lip-thatch grows he is master of Art and Truth;  
And each man hears as the twilight nears, to the beat of his dying heart,  
The Devil drum on the darkened pane: “You did it, but was it Art?” 
  
We have learned to whittle the Eden Tree to the shape of a surplice-peg,  
We have learned to bottle our parents twain in the yolk of an addled egg,  
We know that the tail must wag the dog, as the horse is drawn by the cart;  
But the Devil whoops, as he whooped of old: “It’s clever, but is it Art?”  
  
When the flicker of London’s sun falls faint on the club-room’s green and gold, 
The sons of Adam sit them down and scratch with their pens in the mold—  
They scratch with their pens in the mold of their graves, and the ink and the anguish start  
When the Devil mutters behind the leaves: “It’s pretty, but is it art?”  
  
Now, if we could win to the Eden Tree where the four great rivers flow,  
And the wreath of Eve is red on the turf as she left it long ago,
And if we could come when the sentry slept, and softly scurry through,  
By the favor of God we might know as much—as our father Adam knew.

Rudyard Kipling

If: Sound Fatherly Advice

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The twenty-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, here, here, here, here, here, here , here, here, here , here, here, here , here, here, here , here, here , here , here, here and here.
Nothing is more appropriate in all of Kipling’s writings for a Father’s Day than the poem If.
Written in 1895 as a tribute to the now forgotten Leander Starr Jameson, who helped set the stage for the Boer War, it was not published by Kipling until 1910 when it appeared in his childrens’ book Rewards and Fairies.
The poem takes the form of advice from a father to his son, and it is filled with the type of sage advice that the best of fathers attempt to pass on to bored children, hoping against hope that their kids will recall it in time of need.  Kipling had three children:  Josephine who died at eight in 1899,  Elsie who would live to be eighty and who died in 1976 and John “Jack” Kipling who died shortly after his 18th birthday fighting bravely at the Battle of Loos in 1915.  Kipling took the death of two of his children very hard, unsurprising since the grief that comes with the death of a child is  a temptation to bury oneself in a pit of despair for the rest of one’s  life.  However, Kipling did not do this, keeping his private grief private, and continuing his work, living out in his own life the advice that he gave in If: →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

Man’s Best Friend

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There is sorrow enough in the natural way

From men and women to fill our day;

And when we are certain of sorrow in store,

Why do we always arrange for more?

Brothers and Sisters, I bid you beware

Of giving your heart to a dog to tear.

Buy a pup and your money will buy

Love unflinching that cannot lie –

Perfect passion and worship fed

By a kick in the ribs or a pat on the head.

Nevertheless it is hardly fair

To risk your heart for a dog to tear.

When the fourteen years which Nature permits

Are closing in asthma, or tumour, or fits,

And the vet’s unspoken prescription runs

To lethal chambers or loaded guns,

Then you will find — it’s your own affair –

But . . . you’ve given your heart to a dog to tear.

When the body that lived at your single will,

With its whimper of welcome, is stilled (how still!)

When the spirit that answered your every mood

Is gone — wherever it goes — for good,

You will discover how much you care,

And will give your heart to a dog to tear.

We’ve sorrow enough in the natural way,

When it comes to burying Christian clay.

Our loves are not given, but only lent,

At compound interest of cent per cent.

Though it is not always the case, I believe,

That the longer we’ve kept’em, the more do we grieve;

For, when debts are payable, right or wrong,

A short-time loan is as bad as a long –

So why in — Heaven (before we are there)


Should we give our hearts to a dog to tear?

Rudyard Kipling

Go here to Hot Air to read Jazz Shaw’s salute to his dog Max.  There is an old tale that when Adam and Eve were cast from the garden all the animals named by Adam turned their backs on them, except for the dogs who trotted out by their side into the Wilderness. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

The Answer

The Answer

We are in God’s hand, brother, not in theirs.

Henry V to his brother prior to Agincourt, Henry V, Act III, Scene 6

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.

 

Kipling, as I have often observed in this series, was not conventionally religious. Any man who could refer to himself as a good Christian atheist obviously would never qualify as being conventional in any sense in regard to faith.  However, many of Kipling’s poems do deal with religion, and few more powerfully than The Answer. At first glance a brief and simple poem, it deals with immensely complicated theological questions involving death, innocence, predestination and trust in God, a poetic rendition of the same issues raised in the Book of Job.

This poem, like Job, I suspect can only be understood completely by those afflicted with grief. The temptation when disaster overtakes us in this Vale of Tears, particularly disaster not brought on by any evil on our part, is to rail against our fate and against God.  This is natural, and it is always a mistake.  We are the children of a loving God and ultimately our response to what befalls us in this life can only be that of Job when he stands before God:

[1] Then Job answered the Lord, and said:

[2] I know that thou canst do all things, and no thought is hid from thee.

[3] Who is this that hideth counsel without knowledge? Therefore I have spoken unwisely, and things that above measure exceeded my knowledge.

[4] Hear, and I will speak: I will ask thee, and do thou tell me.

[5] With the hearing of the ear, I have heard thee, but now my eye seeth thee.

[6] Therefore I reprehend myself, and do penance in dust and ashes. ']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

Cities and Thrones and Powers

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Like flowery fields the nations stand

Pleased with the morning light;

The flowers beneath the mower’s hand

Lie withering ere ‘tis night.

Isaac Watts,  Our God, Our Help in Ages Past

 The twenty-ninth 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 and here.

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: →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

The City of Brass

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The twenty-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, here, here, here, here, here, here , here, here, here , here, here, here , here, here, here , here, here , here , here, here and here.

There is a curiously prophetic quality to some of Kipling’s poems.  He saw the birth of the welfare states, just as we are witnessing the death throes of such states.  He saw all too clearly where all this would lead.  For the poem we are looking at in this post, he took as his inspiration the tale of The City of Brass from the Arabian Nights, and shaped it into a prediction of how increasing taxation to pay for welfare would end up in disaster.  Kipling wrote the poem in 1909 in white heat in reaction to the so-called People’s Budget of Chancellor of the Exchequer David Lloyd George, the first British budget to explicitly call for raising taxes to redistribute wealth to establish what would become known as a welfare state:

This is a war Budget. It is for raising money to wage implacable warfare against poverty and squalidness. I cannot help hoping and believing that before this generation has passed away, we shall have advanced a great step towards that good time, when poverty, and the wretchedness and human degradation which always follows in its camp, will be as remote to the people of this country as the wolves which once infested its forests.

(How many empty promises like that have been made in the intervening one hundred and five years!)  Lloyd George was ably assisted by Winston Churchill, then President of the Board of Trade, although Churchill would always reject socialism, and do so with more vigor as the years passed.

Passages in Kipling’s poem read as if they were current commentary on America in the Age of Obama:

“Who has hate in his soul? Who has envied his neighbour?

Let him arise and control both that man and his labour.”

They said: “Who is eaten by sloth? Whose unthrift has destroyed him?

He shall levy a tribute from all because none have employed him.”

They said: “Who hath toiled, who hath striven, and gathered possession?

Let him be spoiled. He hath given full proof of transgression.”

They said: “Who is irked by the Law? Though we may not remove it.

If he lend us his aid in this raid, we will set him above it!

Kipling always had a strong distrust of the power of the State and as for the politicians who wielded that power he accurately summed up most of them in the phrase: “little tin gods on wheels”.  Here is Kipling’s poem: →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

His Boy Jack

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(I originally wrote this three years ago.  It is one of several posts that I wrote, that I now suspect was God’s way of preparing me for the loss of my son, Larry.  The last paragraph in the post I have found of great comfort now that I have experienced, and how I wish that cup had passed me by, the grief that Kipling knew.)

The third in my series examining the poems of Rudyard Kipling.  The first  is here and the second is here.

For most parents, when asked the question, “What is the worst thing in the world that could happen to you?”, the answer that comes terribly to mind is “The death of one of my kids.”  Kipling faced this horror with the death of his only son, John Kipling.  By all accounts, John Kipling was a bright and friendly young man.  When Great Britain entered World War I, Jack, as he was known, like most young men of his generation, decided it was his patriotic duty to enlist and fight for his country.  He attempted to enlist in the Navy, but was refused due to his bad eyesight.  His father used ever bit of influence that he could muster on behalf of his son, and obtained a commission for his son as a second lieutenant with the Irish Guards.  It should be clearly understood that Kipling did not force his son to go to war, but that rather he helped his son obtain his heart’s desire.

On his 18th birthday Jack landed in France.  Six weeks later he was killed at the battle of Loos on September 27, 1915.  Like so many of the dead during World War I, his body was never recovered.  His parents held out some hope that perhaps he had been taken prisoner, but from the moment he was reported missing they reconciled themselves to the fact that their boy was probably dead.  Their grief they kept private, befitting the dignity that used to be much more common than it is today.  In honor of his son, Kipling wrote a two volume history of the Irish Guards during the Great War.  I am sure Jack would have heartily approved.  His son’s name is only mentioned once in the history, among the dead in an appendix, something I am sure that Jack would also have approved, since he was of a time and place that valued restraint and quiet dignity.

Kipling also wrote two poems in honor of his son.  The first is entitled The Irish Guards: →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

Kipling for Labor Day

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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!" ']);"  class="more-link">Continue reading 

Arithmetic

arithmetic on the frontier

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.  Kipling was always concerned with the British Army.  Here in one of his earliest poems, Arithmetic on the Frontier, written in 1886 when he was 21, he bemoans the difficulty of fighting on the northwest frontier of India when it was so expensive to educate and train a British officer compared to the cheap in cost native troops they were fighting.  It is a striking poem filled with striking imagery, but it was a bad analysis of the military situation.  Comparatively few of the troops used by Britain were brought from the United Kindom.  Most were native troops, not much costlier than the foes they faced for the White Queen.  Add in the wide technology disparity, and as long as Britain was willing to pay the financial cost, it could hold its empire in India indefinitely.  The British Raj ended some 62 years after Kipling wrote the poem due to a rising political consciousness of the minute Indian middle and upper classes and because a bankrupt Britain was no longer willing to shoulder the cost.  The poem actually has more relevance for our time than Kipling’s, as America’s experience in Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrates.  Oh well, it is still a marvelous poem!: →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

Tomlinson Our Contemporary

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But because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold, not hot, I will begin to vomit thee out of my mouth.

Revelations 3:16

 

 

 

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:

Your dreaded Principal has included in a speech full of points something like an apology for the banquet which he has set before us. Well, gentledevils, no one blames him. But it would be in vain to deny that the human souls on whose anguish we have been feasting tonight were of pretty poor quality. Not all the most skillful cookery of our tormentors could make them better than insipid.

Oh, to get one’s teeth again into a Farinata, a Henry VIII, or even a Hitler! There was real crackling there; something to crunch; a rage, an egotism, a cruelty only just less robust than our own. It put up a delicious resistance to being devoured. It warmed your inwards when you’d got it down.

Instead of this, what have we had tonight? There was a municipal authority with Graft sauce. But personally I could not detect in him the flavour of a really passionate and brutal avarice such as delighted one in the great tycoons of the last century. Was he not unmistakably a Little Man — a creature of the petty rake-off pocketed with a petty joke in private and denied with the stalest platitudes in his public utterances — a grubby little nonentity who had drifted into corruption, only just realizing that he was corrupt, and chiefly because everyone else did it? Then there was the lukewarm Casserole of Adulterers. Could you find in it any trace of a fully inflamed, defiant, rebellious, insatiable lust? I couldn’t. They all tasted to me like undersexed morons who had blundered or trickled into the wrong beds in automatic response to sexy advertisements, or to make themselves feel modern and emancipated, or to reassure themselves about their virility or their “normalcy,” or even because they had nothing else to do. Frankly, to me who have tasted Messalina and Cassanova, they were nauseating. The Trade Unionist stuffed with sedition was perhaps a shade better. He had done some real harm. He had, not quite unknowingly, worked for bloodshed, famine, and the extinction of liberty. Yes, in a way. But what a way! He thought of those ultimate objectives so little. Toeing the party line, self-importance, and above all mere routine, were what really dominated his life.

But now comes the point. Gastronomically, all this is deplorable. But I hope none of us puts gastronomy first. Is it not, in another and far more serious way, full of hope and promise?

Consider, first, the mere quantity. The quality may be wretched; but we never had souls (of a sort) in more abundance.

And then the triumph. We are tempted to say that such souls — or such residual puddles of what once was soul — are hardly worth damning. Yes, but the Enemy (for whatever inscrutable and perverse reason) thought them worth trying to save. Believe me, He did. You youngsters who have not yet been on active duty have no idea with what labour, with what delicate skill, each of these miserable creatures was finally captured.

The difficulty lay in their very smallness and flabbiness. Here were vermin so muddled in mind, so passively responsive to environment, that it was very hard to raise them to that level of clarity and deliberateness at which mortal sin becomes possible. To raise them just enough; but not that fatal millimetre of “too much.” For then, of course, all would possibly have been lost. They might have seen; they might have repented. On the other hand, if they had been raised too little, they would very possibly have qualified for Limbo, as creatures suitable neither for Heaven nor for Hell; things that, having failed to make the grade, are allowed to sink into a more or less contented subhumanity forever.

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. ']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

Boots

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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. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

Hail Liberty! Hail!

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The twenty-fourth 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 and here.   Published in 1918, Hail Liberty! Hail!  is a translation by Rudyard Kipling, of the first few stanzas of the poem that is the basis of the Greek National Anthem.  It was written by him at the request of the Greek Ambassador to England D. Kaklamanos.

The original poem consisted of 158 stanzas written by Dionysios Solomos in 1823 during the Greek War of Independence.

Abandoning its neutrality, Greece had entered World War I on the side of the Allies in 1917.  Conflict between Greeks favoring neutrality, led by King Constantine, and those favoring Allied intervention led by Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos.  Eventually the forces favoring intervention won out, and King Constantine was forced to abdicate in favor of his son King Alexander.  This all turned out to be disastrous after the War as Venizelos, a Cretan by birth, was a strong proponent of the Big (Megale) Idea which proposed Greek control of the regions in Asia Minor along the Mediterranean Sea that had Greek majorities.  After the War the Greeks seized Smyrna in Asia Minor which led to the disastrous, for Greece, Greco-Turkish War of 1919-1922.  The Greeks were resoundingly defeated by the Turks under Kemal Ataturk, and 1.5 million Greeks were expelled from lands in Asia Minor that they had occupied since the beginnings of Greek recorded history.  A half million Turks and muslim Greeks were expelled from a Greece that they had lived in for almost half a millenium.  The sentiments of the poem are quite high minded, but it serves as an example that high minded sentiments are not a substitute for wisdom in governmental policy.

WE knew thee of old,

Oh divinely restored,

By the light of thine eyes

And the light of thy Sword.

 From the graves of our slain

Shall thy valour prevail

As we greet thee again—

Hail, Liberty! Hail!

 Long time didst thou dwell

Mid the peoples that mourn,

Awaiting some voice

That should bid thee return.

Ah, slow broke that day

And no man dared call,

For the shadow of tyranny

Lay over all:

 And we saw thee sad-eyed,

The tears on thy cheeks

While thy raiment was dyed

In the blood of the Greeks.

Yet, behold now thy sons

With impetuous breath

Go forth to the fight

Seeking Freedom or Death.

 From the graves of our slain

Shall thy valour prevail

As we greet thee again

Hail, Liberty! Hail! ']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

Mother O’ Mine

Mother Love

 

If I were hanged on the highest hill,
Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!
    I know whose love would follow me still,
Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!

    If I were drowned in the deepest sea,
Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!
I know whose tears would come down to me,
Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!

    If I were damned of body and soul,
    I know whose prayers would make me whole,
Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!

Rudyard Kipling

Quotes Suitable for Framing: Thomas Jefferson And Rudyard Kipling

 

 

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And this is the tendency of all human governments. A departure from principle in one instance becomes a precedent for a second; that second for a third; and so on, till the bulk of the society is reduced to be mere automatons of misery, and to have no sensibilities left but for sinning and suffering. Then begins, indeed, the bellum omnium in omnia, which some philosophers observing to be so general in this world, have mistaken it for the natural, instead of the abusive state of man. And the fore horse of this frightful team is public debt.  Taxation follows that, and in its train wretchedness and oppression.

Thomas Jefferson-Letter to Samuel Kercheval (July 12, 1816)

President Obama begs to differ with Mr. Jefferson:

Still, you’ll hear voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that’s the root of all our problems, even as they do their best to gum up the works; or that tyranny always lurks just around the corner. You should reject these voices. Because what they suggest is that our brave, creative, unique experiment in self-rule is just a sham with which we can’t be trusted. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

The Men That Fought At Minden

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The twenty-third 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 and here.  In his poems Kipling was fond of the theme of education.  In several poems he tied in education with another great theme of his poetry, the British Army, Kipling being fascinated by the rough and ready process by which soldiers learned how to be soldiers.

One feature of the British Army that has helped make it such a formidable force over the centuries is the pride in regimental history taken by officers and men.  In the poem The Men That Fought at Minden a sergeant, or perhaps a corporal, is using the battle of Minden as an example to tell new recruits what to expect as they learn how to be soldiers.

On August 1, 1759 an Anglo-German army won a striking victory over a larger French army at the battle of Minden in Germany.  The victory was one of the numerous victories won by the British in 1759, the Annus Mirabilis, which included the taking of Quebec.  The following British regiments fought at Minden and are known as Minden regiments:   12th of Foot, 20th Foot, 23rd of Foot, 25th of Foot, 37th of Foot and  51st Foot.  Minden Day is still observed on August 1, when the men of these regiments wear roses in their caps.  Lord George Sackville was cashiered from the British Army due to cowardice that day.  As Lord George Germain he would serve as George III’s Secretary of State during the American Revolution, contributing greatly to the British loss in that War.  The Marquis de Lafayette’s father died at the battle, and sparked in Lafayette a strong desire for revenge on the British that he brought to fruition in the aid that he brought to the American cause in the Revolution. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

Wholly Slave

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The twenty-second 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 and here.  Kipling throughout his life was an ardent foe of socialism.  His opposition was not primarily due to its economic follies, but rather due to its exaltation of the State.  Kipling was patriotic, but he never in his writings, contrary to the stereotype of him,  turned Britain into an idol to be worshiped.  Kipling understood men too well to think that any group of men, under the rubric of The State, could be exempt from the follies and vices that plague our species.  He viewed government as a necessary evil, with the emphasis on evil, and thought that those wielding the power of the State always needed to be carefully watched and restrained.

These themes were eloquently on display in the poem MacDonough’s Song written by Kipling in 1917.  The poem was a continuation of a science fiction, yes, Kipling wrote science fiction, story called A.B.C., written by Kipling in 1912, where a world government, the Aerial Board of Control, in 2065 acts to crush a rebellion in Chicago against its authority.  Go here to read the short story.  I view it both as an attack on socialist ideas of utopia and a satire on the demagoguery that usually goes with politics.

The poem is fairly bleak in its unsparing look at human nature and government.  The couplet

If it be wiser to kill mankind Before or after the birth— has a dire resonance with our abortion on demand culture.  Separation of Church and State is a common theme on the Left today, while many of the same people labor ceaselessly to make the State all powerful. Kipling’s warning is just as relevant today as when he wrote it.  Here is the text of the poem: ']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

Of Centurions, Love and Kipling

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The twenty-first 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 and here.  Kipling throughout his literary career had two great loves:  his love for England and his love for the British Army that guarded England.  A variant on these two themes is displayed in The Roman Centurion’s Song  which Kipling wrote for A Child’s History of England in 1911.  This is the lament of a Roman Centurion who has served forty years in Britannia.  His cohort, circa 300 AD, has been ordered back to Rome and the Centurion does not want to go.  After forty years Britannia has become his home and he wishes to stay.

Kipling once famously wrote in his poem The ‘Eathen, that the backbone of an army is the non-commissioned man.  That was certainly the case with the Roman Legions.  The centurions were an interesting combination of sergeant major and captain.  They were long service men, almost all risen from the ranks.  They normally commanded 60-80 men, although senior centurions, at the discretion of the Legate in charge of the Legion, could command up to a cohort, 500-1,000 men.  Each centurion had a place in the chain of command  with the primus pilus being the head centurion of a legion.  The military tribunes and legates who led the legions were Roman aristocrats, most of whose military experience was much less than the centurions under them.  If they were wise, they left the day to day management of their legion up to the centurions and paid heed to their advice in combat situations.  In the contemporary histories that have come down to us, the centurions are normally treated with great respect.  This is reflected in the movie Spartacus where Senator Gracchus notes that if the Senate punished every commander who ever made a fool of himself, there would be no one left in the Legions above the rank of centurion.

It was not uncommon for centurions to become quite fond of the people and the foreign lands they were stationed in for lengthy periods.  We see this with the Centurion Cornelius and his encounter with Peter described in Acts 10:

[1] And there was a certain man in Caesarea, named Cornelius, a centurion of that which is called the Italian band; [2] A religious man, and fearing God with all his house, giving much alms to the people, and always praying to God. [3] This man saw in a vision manifestly, about the ninth hour of the day, an angel of God coming in unto him, and saying to him: Cornelius. [4] And he, beholding him, being seized with fear, said: What is it, Lord? And he said to him: Thy prayers and thy alms are ascended for a memorial in the sight of God. [5] And now send men to Joppe, and call hither one Simon, who is surnamed Peter: ']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

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