Rudyard Kipling


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!: Continue reading

Tomlinson Our Contemporary

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. Continue reading


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. Continue reading

Hail Liberty! Hail!

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! 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




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. Continue reading

The Men That Fought At Minden


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. Continue reading

Wholly Slave

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: Continue reading

Of Centurions, Love and Kipling


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: Continue reading

Our Lady of the Sackcloth


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 —

Madonna, intercede!

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

The Last of the Light Brigade

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 Muse Among the Motors

Rudyard Kipling and car

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

Kipling’s Commentary on the Age of Obama

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 , herehere , 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, lack 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

Kipling on Benghazi

The fifteenth in my ongoing series examining the poetry of Rudyard Kipling. The other posts in the series may be read here, here , here , herehere , 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

Kipling and Brown Bess

The fourteenth in my ongoing series examining the poetry of Rudyard Kipling. The other posts in the series may be read here, here , here , herehere , here, here, here, here , here, here, here and hereCertain 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

When Fake Messiahs Bleed


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

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