Rudyard Kipling

Kipling and the Yanks

The tenth 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 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:

1776

                    BEFORE
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

If

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The ninth 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 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

Benedict XV, Rudyard Kipling, John Bunyan and G. K. Chesterton

 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 , herehere , 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,
The Perseverance-Doubters,
 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

Occupy Wall Street Goons Spit on Sailor

 

Unfortunately it seems that my post this week on Kipling’s poem Tommy is oddly relevant:

BOSTON (FOX 25 / MyFoxBoston.com) – The Coast Guard in Boston confirmed that a woman in uniform was harassed and spat upon by Occupy Boston protesters.

The woman was walking to the train and said protesters spit on her twice, called her foul names and even threw a water bottle at her.

Now, the Coast Guard is warning all staff working on Atlantic Avenue to avoid those protesters while in uniform.

More than 140 Occupy Boston protesters were arrested earlier this week for refusing to cooperate with police on the Rose Kennedy Greenway. Continue reading

Tommy

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“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

Gunga Din

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

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.”

Continue reading

The Gods of the Copybook Headings Provide The Commentary

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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.

Continue reading

Recessional

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

Kipling is often denounced as a thoughtless imperialist.  That is a remarkable charge to make against the author of the poem Recessional.

More than once Kipling was offered honors from the British government, including the post of Poet Laureate of Great Britain, all of which he steadfastly refused.  On the diamond jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1897 he composed one of his most powerful poems, Recessional, which perhaps helps explain why he never took up the post of Poet Laureate for the nation he so deeply loved.

God of our fathers, known of old—
Lord of our far-flung battle line—
Beneath whose awful hand we hold
Dominion over palm and pine—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

The tumult and the shouting dies—
The Captains and the Kings depart—
Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
An humble and a contrite heart.
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

Far-called our navies melt away—
On dune and headland sinks the fire—
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

If, drunk with sight of power, we loose
Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe—
Such boastings as the Gentiles use,
Or lesser breeds without the Law—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

For heathen heart that puts her trust
In reeking tube and iron shard—
All valiant dust that builds on dust,
And guarding calls not Thee to guard.
For frantic boast and foolish word,
Thy Mercy on Thy People, Lord!
Amen.

The poem opens with no patriotic effusion or praise of the Queen, but with a stark prayer to the God of our Fathers that Britain not forget something.  What?

Continue reading

Trouble in Tubbyland

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Hattip to Hank at Eclectic Meanderings.

One of the more obscure Victorian military campaigns, the British conquest of Tubbyland was notable for a fair amount of ineptitude among the British commanders, redeemed by the usual courage shown by the “Tommy Atkins” in the ranks.  For a small war, a fair amount has been written on it, and here are some of my thoughts on the more useful works that I have found in my own research into this “savage war of peace”.

Report of Operations of Tubbyland Field Force, three volumes, Captain Gilbert Bryant-Norris, editor in chief,  Her Majesty’s Stationery Office,  (1888).  The official history, these three volumes go into extensive detail and are essential reading for any serious student of this conflict.  Unfortunately, the various authors are at pains to save the reputations of the commanders involved, and therefore the conclusions set forth should be taken with a boulder of salt.  The volumes do have excellent maps, and the texts of letters and telegrams are of great use in piecing together the somewhat convulted operations.

A Child’s History of the Tubbyland War, Winston Churchill, Longmans Green, (1899).  Leave it to Winston Churchill to write a kids’ book about the conflict!  He softens the rough edges of the War for his young readers, but gives a fairly accurate retelling.  The book of course emphasizes British patriotism and the grandeur of the Empire, but not without some criticism of the British commanders and a fair amount of sympathy for the Tubbies.  This passage is indicative of the style of the work:

 “There was plenty of work here for our brave soldiers and Tubbyland was well worth the cost in blood and money.  Were the gentlemen of England all out fox hunting?  No!  For the sake of our manhood, our devoted colonists and our dead soldiers, we perserved and won our War against a brave, albeit soft and cuddly, adversary”. Continue reading

The ‘Eathen

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The fourth in my ongoing examinations of the poetry of Rudyard Kipling.  The other posts in the series may be read here, here and here.  Kipling was a passionate man in his likes and dislikes, and always wore his heart firmly attached to his sleeve.  Throughout his career he championed the rankers and non-commissioned officers in the British Army.  He rightly thought that the men who were at the sharp end of the stick in battle often got the short end of the stick outside of battle.  Kipling never forgot about them, and he made certain his readers never forgot about them, making them the subject of many of his poems, books and short stories, and constantly reminding the British that their nation and empire relied upon the raw courage of men too often regarded as scum by civilians.  Kipling didn’t romanticize them, he knew them too well for that, but he did recognize their virtues as well as their vices, and honored them for the courage and good humor with which most of them went about their dangerous tasks.  One of my favorite poems of Kipling is The ‘Eathen, written by Kipling in 1895, which is Kipling’s salute to the British non-com, and a searching look at how a slum recruit becomes a good one. Continue reading

A Hymn Before Action

The second in my series examining the poetry of Kipling.  Kipling liked to keep his religious views obscure.  In 1908 he described himself as a “God-fearing Christian atheist”.  There are many other remarks he made about his religious views which are just as cryptic.  Why he did this is hard to say, except perhaps for his own amusement.  Kipling had a well-developed sense of humor and enjoyed practical jokes both literary and otherwise.  He was an enthusiastic mason for a number of years, but there is little evidence he viewed it as anything other than an amusing convivial organization.

In his poems Kipling did not shy away from religious themes.  More than a few of his poems, short stories and novels have a fairly strong religious element.  Perhaps his most strongly religious poem is a Hymn Before Action which he composed in 1896:

Continue reading

Political Advice From Rudyard Kipling

I have always been a great fan of the poetry of Kipling.  It is fun to recite and often has a fair amount of wisdom.  Too often Kipling is simply written off as a pro-imperialist poet and relegated to the past along with the British Empire.  He was certainly a loyal Brit and an advocate of the Empire, but there was much more to him than that.  Refusing honor after honor, including being poet laureate of Great Britain, he always retained his independence to give loving criticism to his country.  For example, in 1897 at the time of the diamond jubilee of Queen Victoria, he wrote the poem Recessional which envisioned a time when Great Britain would have lost its Empire and its power:

Far-called, our navies melt away;
On dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet.
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

Kipling realized that power was never an end itself and that Great Britain would be judged by God and History not by how much power it amassed, but by what the British did with their power. Continue reading

Government Monopolies v. Competition

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Another fine econ 101 video from the Center for Freedom and Prosperity.   That government monopolies like the post office and public schools deliver inferior service at greatly inflated cost is as well established as any fact can be this side of Eternity.  The mystery to me is why we still keep making this fundamental mistake of assuming that a government monopoly is necessary rather than  looking into new measures to reach the goal sought.  The faith in government, especially on the political Left, is as charming in its naivety as it is irrational.

The last century was often a long sad failure to heed the warnings of Rudyard Kipling in his poem The Gods of the Copybook Headings.  I hope this century will not repeat this inability to learn some very simple lessons about the limits of  both government and wishful thinking.

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Politicians. Little Tin Gods on Wheels.

Since the bad joke who happens to be the governor of my state is apparently fond of quoting Kipling, the title to this post is also from Kipling who had very little use for most politicians.  A variant of the great poem “If” , much more fitting for Blagojevich, is provided by Claudia Rosett here.

Blagojevich, Chicago’s curse to the state of Illinois, might be more careful in the choice of poets he quotes.  Kipling did not think much of the Windy City.

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