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:
 And there was a certain man in Caesarea, named Cornelius, a centurion of that which is called the Italian band;  A religious man, and fearing God with all his house, giving much alms to the people, and always praying to God.  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.  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.  And now send men to Joppe, and call hither one Simon, who is surnamed Peter: Continue reading
The twentieth 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 and here. Kipling was something of a mystery when it came to religion. He once jokingly referred to himself as a Christian Atheist. However, religion not infrequently came up in Kipling’s poetry and prose. For a Protestant he seemed to have a fondness for the Virgin Mary. In his poem A Hymn Before Action we see this devotion in this stanza:
Ah, Mary pierced with sorrow,
Remember, reach and save
The soul that comes to-morrow
Before the God that gave!
Since each was born of woman,
For each at utter need —
True comrade and true foeman —
We also see this devotion in a poem Kipling wrote in the year before his death, Our Lady of the Sackcloth. It is based on one of the stories in a 15th Century Ethiopian book, One Hundred and Ten Miracles of Our Lady Mary that had been translated into English in 1933. At age 68 and his health declining I suspect Kipling saw himself in the role of the elderly priest who could only recall the daily prayer to the Virgin. Note the reference to the Eucharist: When the Bread and the Body are one. Kipling’s poem reminds us that we are all beneficiaries of the love of the Mother of God, even though we are unaware of it: Continue reading
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 fifteenth 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 and here.
At National Review Online they had the superb idea of taking Kipling’s poem Mesopotamia and applying it to the Benghazi debacle. The Mesopotamian, modern day Iraq, Campaign had been a disaster for the British in 1916 with a British army surrendering to the Turks at Kut. British public opinion was outraged at the incompetence that led to the defeat. When a report by the government on Kut was published in 1917, Kipling responded with his devastating poem. (Ironically the British in 1917, under the able General Frederick Maude, had succeeded in capturing Baghdad by the time the poem appeared.) The lines of the Kipling poem do seem to apply word for word to the Benghazi shame: Continue reading
The fourteenth 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 and here. Certain themes recurred in many of Kipling’s poems: a fascination with mechanical devices, strong British patriotism and a puckish sense of humor. All three of these themes were on display in the poem Brown Bess written in 1911 and which was part of the School History of England authored by Kipling and C.R.L. Fletcher . The poem was a paean to the British Land Pattern Musket, affectionately know by the Redcoats as Brown Bess. Brown Bess was the standard English long gun from 1722-1838, an astounding length of service for those who live in a time of ceaseless and rapid technological change.
The video at the beginning of this post is taken from Sharpe’s Eagle and depicts the battle of Talavera. It illustrates the impact of massed British volleys of Brown Bess musket fire on French columns. (The redcoats are armed with muskets; Sharpe and his green jacketed men are armed with rifles.) The British Army was a curious thing during the period of Brown Bess. The men were almost entirely desperately poor, poverty being the main inducement to don the Red Coat, service in the Army with its low pay, harsh discipline and danger being highly unpopular. The officers tended to be aristocratic wastrels who purchased their commissions and were often regarded by their families as dunderheads fit only for gunpowder. However, from this unpromising material was created the finest army in the world. This was largely a function of ferocious discipline, constant training in drill and volley firing, good career noncoms, a few brilliant generals like Amherst and Wellington, and extreme combativeness and courage, amply displayed both by the common soldiers and the aristocrats who led them.
Kipling’s poem was based upon the device of treating the Brown Bess musket as if she was a fashionable belle of society. Kipling told his father, ‘A conceit somewhat elaborately beaten out but it amused me in the doing – sign that may be t’will amuse other folks to read.’ Here is the text of the poem: Continue reading
There is a great scene in Kipling’s story The Man Who Would Be King. Two British adventurers take over a fictional kingdom, with one of them pretending to be a god. The whole exploit goes pear-shaped when the “god” attempts to marry a local girl. She belts him and he begins to bleed. The local pagan priests seeing this yell out, “Neither God nor Devil but a man!” and things head badly south for the two conmen.
Something similar has happend to the erstwhile South side Messiah since his first debate with Romney. Byron York interviewed a young woman who, I think, speaks now for many in her generation:
Danielle Low, a 22 year-old preschool teacher in Lebanon, is the quintessential Romney target voter. In 2008, she was newly eligible to vote, and she chose Barack Obama. “But then I gave birth to my first son, and I knew we needed a change,” Low said. “We bought a house in ’09 and we’re struggling every day, my husband and I are. I just want to see things turn around. I want to be able to afford to have another child. I want to be able to afford to buy a house where we want to live, and right now, with the economy the way it is, we can’t do that.”
“I think President Obama tricked me into voting for him,” Low continued in an impromptu discussion that could have doubled as a Romney ad. “I feel like he lied to me. He made promises he couldn’t keep. He played on my young emotions. He played on me because I was young and naïve. I didn’t know anything about the world. I believed that he was going to give us a change. I just feel like he made a lot of promises — there’s no way he followed through with them. I haven’t seen any change. I’ve seen change for the worse, not change for the better. So I hope Mitt Romney can carry us through the next four years.” Continue reading
Andrew Klavan at City Journal explains how the media creation Obama ended with the debate this week:
The Obama of the imagination is the media’s Obama. Out of their fascination with the color of his skin and their mindless awe at his windy teleprompted rhetoric, they constructed a man of stature and accomplishment. Now, with the White House on the line, they’re waging an ongoing battle against the undeniable evidence that he has never been, in fact, that man. The result in these quadrennial autumn days has been media coverage of a fantasy election, an election in the news that may bear no relation whatsoever to the election as it is. Polls consistently skewed to favor Democrats in percentages beyond any reasonable construct of reality have left us virtually ignorant of the state of the race. Orchestrated frenzies over alleged gaffes by Mitt Romney have camouflaged an imploding Obama foreign policy, an Obama economy threatened by a new recession, and an Obama campaign filled with vicious personal attacks and lies.
Governor Romney’s unprecedented dismantling of the president in their first debate—an encounter so one-sided it reminded me of the famous cartoon in which Godzilla meets Bambi, with predictable results—was surprising only for Romney’s warmth and clarity. Obama’s hapless fumbling, bad temper, and inarticulate inability to defend his record were actually thoroughly predictable. They were simply facets of the man as he truly is, unfiltered by the imagination of his media supporters: a man who has succeeded, really, at almost nothing but the winning of elections; a man who cannot distinguish between his ideology and life; a man who does not seem to know how the machinery of the world actually works.
Fantasy is a powerful thing, but reality will out. Perhaps by Election Day, the public will have awakened from the media’s dream. 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
British military historian John Keegan dearly loves the United States, and has visited the country many times. However, he thinks we have an appalling climate in the summer, especially the hot, muggy summers of the Midwest which he experienced first hand on his initial trip here in the fifties. He has compared the US climate in the summer in the Midwest unfavorably to the climate in summer of much of India. Having endured the current heat wave in Central Illinois for many weeks, the worst since the great drought of 1988, I am inclined to agree with him. Perhaps it is my Newfoundland blood, but I have always been fond of cold weather and despised hot weather. In tribute to the agony inducing qualities of heat, I submit this poem by Rudyard Kipling. With this poem, no commentary by me is necessary!
The toad beneath the harrow knows
Exactly where each tooth-point goes.
The butterfly upon the road
Preaches contentment to that toad.
Pagett, M.P., was a liar, and a fluent liar therewith –
He spoke of the heat of India as the “Asian Solar Myth”;
Came on a four months’ visit, to “study the East,” in November,
And I got him to sign an agreement vowing to stay till September.
March came in with the koil. Pagett was cool and gay,
Called me a “bloated Brahmin,” talked of my “princely pay.”
March went out with the roses. “Where is your heat?” said he.
“Coming,” said I to Pagett, “Skittles!” said Pagett, M.P.
April began with the punkah, coolies, and prickly-heat, –
Pagett was dear to mosquitoes, sandflies found him a treat.
He grew speckled and mumpy-hammered, I grieve to say,
Aryan brothers who fanned him, in an illiberal way.
The eleventh 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 and here. Kipling had a deep love of English history and a deep love of English freedom, and he well understood the turbulent conflicts over a millennium that had created that freedom. He was also keenly aware of developments in his own time, the rise of socialism first among them, that threatened the freedom he cherished. Published on September 29, 1899 at the outset of the Boer War, the poem the Old Issue is an interesting meditation on freedom and how it could be lost. Ostensibly a criticism by Kipling of the tyranny of the Boers over English settlers, the poem goes far deeper than that, and to me has a very contemporary feel:
“Here is nothing new nor aught unproven,” say the Trumpets
“Many feet have worn it and the road is old indeed, “It is the King–the King we schooled aforetime!” (Trumpets in the marshes–in the eyot at Runnymede!)
“Here is neither haste, nor hate, nor anger,” peal the Trumpets, “Pardon for his penitence or pity for his fall,
“It is the King!”–inexorable Trumpets– (Trumpets round the scaffold at the dawning by Whitehall!)
“He hath veiled the Crown and hid the Sceptre,” warn the Trumpets, “He hath changed the fashion of the lies that cloak his will. “Hard die the Kings–ah, hard–dooms hard!” declare the Trumpets, (Trumpets at the gang-plank where the brawling troop-decks fill!)
Ancient and Unteachable, abide–abide the Trumpets! Once again the Trumpets, for the shuddering ground-swell brings Clamour over ocean of the harsh, pursuing Trumpets– Trumpets of the Vanguard that have sworn no truce with Kings!
All we have of freedom, all we use or know– This our fathers bought for us long and long ago.
Ancient Right unnoticed as the breath we draw– Leave to live by no man’s leave, underneath the Law–
Lance and torch and tumult, steel and grey-goose wing, Wrenched it, inch and ell and all, slowly from the King.
Till our fathers ‘stablished, after bloody years, How our King is one with us, first among his peers.
So they bought us freedom–not at little cost– Wherefore must we watch the King, lest our gain be lost.
Over all things certain, this is sure indeed, Suffer not the old King: for we know the breed.
Give no ear to bondsmen bidding us endure, Whining “He is weak and far;” crying “Time shall cure.”
(Time himself is witness, till the battle joins, Deeper strikes the rottenness in the people’s loins.)
Give no heed to bondsmen masking war with peace, Suffer not the old King here or overseas.
They that beg us barter–wait his yielding mood– Pledge the years we hold in trust–pawn our brother’s blood–
Howso’ great their clamour, whatso’er their claim, Suffer not the old King under any name!
He shall mark our goings, question whence we came, Set his guards about us, as in Freedom’s name.
Here is naught unproven–here is naught to learn, It is written what shall fall if the King return.
He shall take a tribute; toll of all our ware; He shall change our gold for arms–arms we may not bear.
He shall break his Judges if they cross his word; He shall rule above the Law calling on the Lord.
He shall peep and mutter; and the night shall bring Watchers ‘neath our windows, lest we mock the King–
Hate and all divisions; hosts of hurrying spies; Money poured in secret; carrion breeding flies.
Strangers of his counsel, hirelings of his pay, These shall deal our Justice: sell–deny–delay.
We shall drink dishonour, we shall eat abuse, For the Land we look to–for the Tongue we use.
We shall take our station, dirt beneath his feet, while his hired captains jeer us in the street.
Cruel in the shadow, crafty in the sun, Far beyond his borders shall his teachings run.
Sloven, sullen, savage, secret, uncontrolled, Laying on a new land evil of the old–
Long-forgotten bondage, dwarfing heart and brain– All our fathers died to loose he shall bind again.
Here is naught at venture, random or untrue– Swings the wheel full-circle, brims the cup anew.
Here is naught unproven, here is nothing hid: Step for step and word for word–so the old Kings did!
Step by step and word by word: who is ruled may read. Suffer not the old Kings: for we know the breed–
All the right they promise–all the wrong they bring. Stewards of the Judgment, suffer not this King! Continue reading
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!
The tenth 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 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. Continue reading
The 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 and here. By far If is the most famous poem of Kipling’s, written in 1909 in the form of advice to his only son, John (Jack) Kipling, who would die fighting bravely at Loos shortly after his eighteenth birthday in 1915. The poem was inspired by the Jameson raid, undertaken in 1895 by Doctor Leander Starr Jameson. Jameson, who became a close friend of Kipling, became a British national hero by his leadership of the unsuccessful raid which attempted to start a revolt of British settlers, who outnumbered the native Boers two to one, against the Boer government of the Transvaal. Jameson, who rose to be Prime Minister of the Cape Colony, throughout his life embodied many of the virtues praised in the poem.
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools;
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on”;
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch;
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man my son! Continue reading