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
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
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. We are going to at one of the poems today in the final category, that is today one of Kipling’s most obscure ones, but caused something of a stir when he wrote it in Advent during 1917. The Holy War:
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,
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. Continue reading
Unfortunately it seems that my post this week on Kipling’s poem Tommy is oddly relevant:
“I thank God that I served as a sergeant and army chaplain in the First World War. How much I learned about the human heart during this time, how much experience I gained, what grace I received.”
Pope John XXIII
The 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 and here. Throughout his life Kipling constantly returned to one theme in his poetry and prose: the common British soldier. Kipling did not romanticize them, being far too aware that they were merely fallible humans like the rest of us, and often the products of the school of hard knocks with many rough edges about them. However, he also recognized their virtues: courage, endurance, good humor and a willingness to place their lives at jeopardy for the rest of us. He never forgot the men who lived at the sharp end of the stick and who often got the short end of the stick from the society they protected. His poem Tommy brilliantly encapsulates this wretched ingratitude:
I went into a public-’ouse to get a pint o’ beer,
The publican ‘e up an’ sez, “We serve no red-coats here.”
The girls be’ind the bar they laughed an’ giggled fit to die,
I outs into the street again an’ to myself sez I:
O it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, go away”;
But it’s “Thank you, Mister Atkins”, when the band begins to play,
The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,
O it’s “Thank you, Mister Atkins”, when the band begins to play.
I went into a theatre as sober as could be,
They gave a drunk civilian room, but ‘adn’t none for me;
They sent me to the gallery or round the music-’alls,
But when it comes to fightin’, Lord! they’ll shove me in the stalls!
For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, wait outside”;
But it’s “Special train for Atkins” when the trooper’s on the tide,
The troopship’s on the tide, my boys, the troopship’s on the tide,
O it’s “Special train for Atkins” when the trooper’s on the tide.
Yes, makin’ mock o’ uniforms that guard you while you sleep
Is cheaper than them uniforms, an’ they’re starvation cheap;
An’ hustlin’ drunken soldiers when they’re goin’ large a bit
Is five times better business than paradin’ in full kit.
Then it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, ‘ow’s yer soul?”
But it’s “Thin red line of ‘eroes” when the drums begin to roll,
The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
O it’s “Thin red line of ‘eroes” when the drums begin to roll.
We aren’t no thin red ‘eroes, nor we aren’t no blackguards too,
But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you;
An’ if sometimes our conduck isn’t all your fancy paints,
Why, single men in barricks don’t grow into plaster saints;
While it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, fall be’ind”,
But it’s “Please to walk in front, sir”, when there’s trouble in the wind,
There’s trouble in the wind, my boys, there’s trouble in the wind,
O it’s “Please to walk in front, sir”, when there’s trouble in the wind.
You talk o’ better food for us, an’ schools, an’ fires, an’ all:
We’ll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.
Don’t mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
The Widow’s Uniform is not the soldier-man’s disgrace.
For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Chuck him out, the brute!”
But it’s “Saviour of ‘is country” when the guns begin to shoot;
An’ it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ anything you please;
An’ Tommy ain’t a bloomin’ fool — you bet that Tommy sees! Continue reading
Kipling is usually regarded, and often dismissed, as the poet laureate of British Imperialism. A close examination of his poetry and stories reveals a good deal more complexity than that. A prime example of this is Kipling’s poem Gunga Din, written in 1892:
You may talk o’ gin and beer
When you’re quartered safe out ‘ere,
An’ you’re sent to penny-fights an’ Aldershot it;
But when it comes to slaughter
You will do your work on water,
An’ you’ll lick the bloomin’ boots of ‘im that’s got it.
Now in Injia’s sunny clime,
Where I used to spend my time
A-servin’ of ‘Er Majesty the Queen,
Of all them blackfaced crew
The finest man I knew
Was our regimental bhisti, Gunga Din.
He was “Din! Din! Din!
You limpin’ lump o’ brick-dust, Gunga Din!
Hi! slippery hitherao!
Water, get it! Panee lao!
You squidgy-nosed old idol, Gunga Din.”