Rudyard Kipling

Horizon, February 1942
Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)

Rudyard Kipling (Photo: 1926)

It was a pity that Mr. Eliot should be so much on the defensive in the long essay with which he prefaces this selection of Kipling’s poetry, but it was not to be avoided, because before one can even speak about Kipling one has to clear away a legend that has been created by two sets of people who have not read his works. Kipling is in the peculiar position of having been a byword for fifty years. During five literary generations every enlightened person has despised him, and at the end of that time nine-tenths of those enlightened persons are forgotten and Kipling is in some sense still there. Mr. Eliot never satisfactorily explains this fact, because in answering the shallow and familiar charge that Kipling is a ‘Fascist’, he falls into the opposite error of defending him where he is not defensible. It is no use pretending that Kipling’s view of life, as a whole, can be accepted or even forgiven by any civilized person. It is no use claiming, for instance, that when Kipling describes a British soldier beating a ‘nigger’ with a cleaning rod in order to get money out of him, he is acting merely as a reporter and does not necessarily approve what he describes. There is not the slightest sign anywhere in Kipling’s work that he disapproves of that kind of conduct — on the contrary, there is a definite strain of sadism in him, over and above the brutality which a writer of that type has to have. Kipling is a jingo imperialist, he is morally insensitive and aesthetically disgusting. It is better to start by admitting that, and then to try to find out why it is that he survives while the refined people who have sniggered at him seem to wear so badly.

And yet the ‘Fascist’ charge has to be answered, because the first clue to any understanding of Kipling, morally or politically, is the fact that he was NOT a Fascist. He was further from being one than the most humane or the most ‘progressive’ person is able to be nowadays. An interesting instance of the way in which quotations are parroted to and fro without any attempt to look up their context or discover their meaning is the line from ‘Recessional’, ‘Lesser breeds without the Law’. This line is always good for a snigger in pansy-left circles. It is assumed as a matter of course that the ‘lesser breeds’ are ‘natives’, and a mental picture is called up of some pukka sahib in a pith helmet kicking a coolie. In its context the sense of the line is almost the exact opposite of this. The phrase ‘lesser breeds’ refers almost certainly to the Germans, and especially the pan-German writers, who are ‘without the Law’ in the sense of being lawless, not in the sense of being powerless. The whole poem, conventionally thought of as an orgy of boasting, is a denunciation of power politics, British as well as German. Two stanzas are worth quoting (I am quoting this as politics, not as poetry):

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!

Much of Kipling’s phraseology is taken from the Bible, and no doubt in the second stanza he had in mind the text from Psalm CXXVII: ‘Except the lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it; except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.’ It is not a text that makes much impression on the post-Hitler mind. No one, in our time, believes in any sanction greater than military power; no one believes that it is possible to overcome force except by greater force. There is no ‘Law’, there is only power. I am not saying that that is a true belief, merely that it is the belief which all modern men do actually hold. Those who pretend otherwise are either intellectual cowards, or power-worshippers under a thin disguise, or have simply not caught up with the age they are living in. Kipling’s outlook is pre-Fascist. He still believes that pride comes before a fall and that the gods punish HUBRIS. He does not foresee the tank, the bombing plane, the radio and the secret police, or their psychological results.

But in saying this, does not one unsay what I said above about Kipling’s jingoism and brutality? No, one is merely saying that the nineteenth-century imperialist outlook and the modern gangster outlook are two different things. Kipling belongs very definitely to the period 1885-1902. The Great War and its aftermath embittered him, but he shows little sign of having learned anything from any event later than the Boer War. He was the prophet of British Imperialism in its expansionist phase (even more than his poems, his solitary novel, THE LIGHT THAT FAILED, gives you the atmosphere of that time) and also the unofficial historian of the British Army, the old mercenary army which began to change its shape in 1914. All his confidence, his bouncing vulgar vitality, sprang out of limitations which no Fascist or near-Fascist shares.

Kipling spent the later part of his life in sulking, and no doubt it was political disappointment rather than literary vanity that account for this. Somehow history had not gone according to plan. After the greatest victory she had ever known, Britain was a lesser world power than before, and Kipling was quite acute enough to see this. The virtue had gone out of the classes he idealized, the young were hedonistic or disaffected, the desire to paint the map red had evaporated. He could not understand what was happening, because he had never had any grasp of the economic forces underlying imperial expansion. It is notable that Kipling does not seem to realize, any more than the average soldier or colonial administrator, that an empire is primarily a money-making concern. Imperialism as he sees it is a sort of forcible evangelizing. You turn a Gatling gun on a mob of unarmed ‘natives’, and then you establish ‘the Law’, which includes roads, railways and a court-house. He could not foresee, therefore, that the same motives which brought the Empire into existence would end by destroying it. It was the same motive, for example, that caused the Malayan jungles to be cleared for rubber estates, and which now causes those estates to be handed over intact to the Japanese. The modern totalitarians know what they are doing, and the nineteenth-century English did not know what they were doing. Both attitudes have their advantages, but Kipling was never able to move forward from one into the other. His outlook, allowing for the fact that after all he was an artist, was that of the salaried bureaucrat who despises the ‘box-wallah’ and often lives a lifetime without realizing that the ‘box-wallah’ calls the tune.

But because he identifies himself with the official class, he does possess one thing which ‘enlightened’ people seldom or never possess, and that is a sense of responsibility. The middle-class Left hate him for this quite as much as for his cruelty and vulgarity. All left-wing parties in the highly industrialized countries are at bottom a sham, because they make it their business to fight against something which they do not really wish to destroy. They have internationalist aims, and at the same time they struggle to keep up a standard of life with which those aims are incompatible. We all live by robbing Asiatic coolies, and those of us who are ‘enlightened’ all maintain that those coolies ought to be set free; but our standard of living, and hence our ‘enlightenment’, demands that the robbery shall continue. A humanitarian is always a hypocrite, and Kipling’s understanding of this is perhaps the central secret of his power to create telling phrases. It would be difficult to hit off the one-eyed pacifism of the English in fewer words than in the phrase, ‘making mock of uniforms that guard you while you sleep’. It is true that Kipling does not understand the economic aspect of the relationship between the highbrow and the blimp. He does not see that the map is painted red chiefly in order that the coolie may be exploited. Instead of the coolie he sees the Indian Civil Servant; but even on that plane his grasp of function, of who protects whom, is very sound. He sees clearly that men can only be highly civilized while other men, inevitably less civilized, are there to guard and feed them.

How far does Kipling really identify himself with the administrators, soldiers and engineers whose praises he sings? Not so completely as is sometimes assumed. He had travelled very widely while he was still a young man, he had grown up with a brilliant mind in mainly philistine surroundings, and some streak in him that may have been partly neurotic led him to prefer the active man to the sensitive man. The nineteenth-century Anglo-Indians, to name the least sympathetic of his idols, were at any rate people who did things. It may be that all that they did was evil, but they changed the face of the earth (it is instructive to look at a map of Asia and compare the railway system of India with that of the surrounding countries), whereas they could have achieved nothing, could not have maintained themselves in power for a single week, if the normal Anglo-Indian outlook had been that of, say, E.M. Forster. Tawdry and shallow though it is, Kipling’s is the only literary picture that we possess of nineteenth-century Anglo-India, and he could only make it because he was just coarse enough to be able to exist and keep his mouth shut in clubs and regimental messes. But he did not greatly resemble the people he admired. I know from several private sources that many of the Anglo-Indians who were Kipling’s contemporaries did not like or approve of him. They said, no doubt truly, that he knew nothing about India, and on the other hand, he was from their point of view too much of a highbrow. While in India he tended to mix with ‘the wrong’ people, and because of his dark complexion he was wrongly suspected of having a streak of Asiatic blood. Much in his development is traceable to his having been born in India and having left school early. With a slightly different background he might have been a good novelist or a superlative writer of music-hall songs. But how true is it that he was a vulgar flag-waver, a sort of publicity agent for Cecil Rhodes? It is true, but it is not true that he was a yes-man or a time-server. After his early days, if then, he never courted public opinion. Mr. Eliot says that what is held against him is that he expressed unpopular views in a popular style. This narrows the issue by assuming that ‘unpopular’ means unpopular with the intelligentsia, but it is a fact that Kipling’s ‘message’ was one that the big public did not want, and, indeed, has never accepted. The mass of the people, in the nineties as now, were anti-militarist, bored by the Empire, and only unconsciously patriotic. Kipling’s official admirers are and were the ‘service’ middle class, the people who read BLACKWOOD’S. In the stupid early years of this century, the blimps, having at last discovered someone who could be called a poet and who was on their side, set Kipling on a pedestal, and some of his more sententious poems, such as ‘If’, were given almost biblical status. But it is doubtful whether the blimps have ever read him with attention, any more than they have read the Bible. Much of what he says they could not possibly approve. Few people who have criticized England from the inside have said bitterer things about her than this gutter patriot. As a rule it is the British working class that he is attacking, but not always. That phrase about ‘the flannelled fools at the wicket and the muddied oafs at the goal’ sticks like an arrow to this day, and it is aimed at the Eton and Harrow match as well as the Cup-Tie Final. Some of the verses he wrote about the Boer War have a curiously modern ring, so far as their subject-matter goes. ‘Stellenbosch’, which must have been written about 1902, sums up what every intelligent infantry officer was saying in 1918, or is saying now, for that matter.

Kipling’s romantic ideas about England and the Empire might not have mattered if he could have held them without having the class-prejudices which at that time went with them. If one examines his best and most representative work, his soldier poems, especially BARRACK-ROOM BALLADS, one notices that what more than anything else spoils them is an underlying air of patronage. Kipling idealizes the army officer, especially the junior officer, and that to an idiotic extent, but the private soldier, though lovable and romantic, has to be a comic. He is always made to speak in a sort of stylized Cockney, not very broad but with all the aitches and final “g’s” carefully omitted. Very often the result is as embarrassing as the humorous recitation at a church social. And this accounts for the curious fact that one can often improve Kipling’s poems, make them less facetious and less blatant, by simply going through them and transplanting them from Cockney into standard speech. This is especially true of his refrains, which often have a truly lyrical quality. Two examples will do (one is about a funeral and the other about a wedding):

So it’s knock out your pipes and follow me!
And it’s finish up your swipes and follow me!
Oh, hark to the big drum calling,
Follow me — follow me home!

and again:

Cheer for the Sergeant’s wedding —
Give them one cheer more!
Grey gun-horses in the lando,
And a rogue is married to a whore!

Here I have restored the aitches, etc. Kipling ought to have known better. He ought to have seen that the two closing lines of the first of these stanzas are very beautiful lines, and that ought to have overriden his impulse to make fun of a working-man’s accent. In the ancient ballads the lord and the peasant speak the same language. This is impossible to Kipling, who is looking down a distorting class-perspective, and by a piece of poetic justice one of his best lines is spoiled — for “follow me ’ome” is much uglier than “follow me home”. But even where it makes no difference musically the facetiousness of his stage Cockney dialect is irritating. However, he is more often quoted aloud than read on the printed page, and most people instinctively make the necessary alterations when they quote him.

Can one imagine any private soldier, in the nineties or now, reading BARRACK-ROOM BALLADS and feeling that here was a writer who spoke for him? It is very hard to do so. Any soldier capable of reading a book of verse would notice at once that Kipling is almost unconscious of the class war that goes on in an army as much as elsewhere. It is not only that he thinks the soldier comic, but that he thinks him patriotic, feudal, a ready admirer of his officers and proud to be a soldier of the Queen. Of course that is partly true, or battles could not be fought, but ‘What have I done for thee, England, my England?’ is essentially a middle-class query. Almost any working man would follow it up immediately with ‘What has England done for me?’ In so far as Kipling grasps this, he simply sets it down to ‘the intense selfishness of the lower classes’ (his own phrase). When he is writing not of British but of ‘loyal’ Indians he carries the ‘Salaam, sahib’ motif to sometimes disgusting lengths. Yet it remains true that he has far more interest in the common soldier, far more anxiety that he shall get a fair deal, than most of the ‘liberals’ of his day or our own. He sees that the soldier is neglected, meanly underpaid and hypocritically despised by the people whose incomes he safeguards. ‘I came to realize’, he says in his posthumous memoirs, ‘the bare horrors of the private’s life, and the unnecessary torments he endured’. He is accused of glorifying war, and perhaps he does so, but not in the usual manner, by pretending that war is a sort of football match. Like most people capable of writing battle poetry, Kipling had never been in battle, but his vision of war is realistic. He knows that bullets hurt, that under fire everyone is terrified, that the ordinary soldier never knows what the war is about or what is happening except in his own corner of the battlefield, and that British troops, like other troops, frequently run away:

I ‘eard the knives be’ind me, but I dursn’t face my man,
Nor I don’t know where I went to, ‘cause I didn’t stop to see,
Till I ‘eard a beggar squealin’ out for quarter as ‘e ran,
An’ I thought I knew the voice an’— it was me!

Modernize the style of this, and it might have come out of one of the debunking war books of the nineteen-twenties. Or again:

An’ now the hugly bullets come peckin’ through the dust,
An’ no one wants to face ‘em, but every beggar must;
So, like a man in irons, which isn’t glad to go,
They moves ‘em off by companies uncommon stiff an’ slow.

Compare this with:

Forward the Light Brigade!
Was there a man dismayed?
No! though the soldier knew
Someone had blundered.

If anything, Kipling overdoes the horrors, for the wars of his youth were hardly wars at all by our standards. Perhaps that is due to the neurotic strain in him, the hunger for cruelty. But at least he knows that men ordered to attack impossible objectives ARE dismayed, and also that fourpence a day is not a generous pension.

How complete or truthful a picture has Kipling left us of the long-service, mercenary army of the late nineteenth century? One must say of this, as of what Kipling wrote about nineteenth-century Anglo-India, that it is not only the best but almost the only literary picture we have. He has put on record an immense amount of stuff that one could otherwise only gather from verbal tradition or from unreadable regimental histories. Perhaps his picture of army life seems fuller and more accurate than it is because any middle-class English person is likely to know enough to fill up the gaps. At any rate, reading the essay on Kipling that Mr. Edmund Wilson has just published or is just about to publish*, I was struck by the number of things that are boringly familiar to us and seem to be barely intelligible to an American. But from the body of Kipling’s early work there does seem to emerge a vivid and not seriously misleading picture of the old pre-machine-gun army — the sweltering barracks in Gibraltar or Lucknow, the red coats, the pipeclayed belts and the pillbox hats, the beer, the fights, the floggings, hangings and crucifixions, the bugle-calls, the smell of oats and horse-piss, the bellowing sergeants with foot-long moustaches, the bloody skirmishes, invariably mismanaged, the crowded troopships, the cholera-stricken camps, the ‘native’ concubines, the ultimate death in the workhouse. It is a crude, vulgar picture, in which a patriotic music-hall turn seems to have got mixed up with one of Zola’s gorier passages, but from it future generations will be able to gather some idea of what a long-term volunteer army was like. On about the same level they will be able to learn something of British India in the days when motor-cars and refrigerators were unheard of. It is an error to imagine that we might have had better books on these subjects if, for example, George Moore, or Gissing, or Thomas Hardy, had had Kipling’s opportunities. That is the kind of accident that cannot happen. It was not possible that nineteenth-century England should produce a book like WAR AND PEACE, or like Tolstoy’s minor stories of army life, such as Sebastopol or THE COSSACKS, not because the talent was necessarily lacking but because no one with sufficient sensitiveness to write such books would ever have made the appropriate contacts. Tolstoy lived in a great military empire in which it seemed natural for almost any young man of family to spend a few years in the army, whereas the British Empire was and still is demilitarized to a degree which continental observers find almost incredible. Civilized men do not readily move away from the centres of civilization, and in most languages there is a great dearth of what one might call colonial literature. It took a very improbable combination of circumstances to produce Kipling’s gaudy tableau, in which Private Ortheris and Mrs. Hauksbee pose against a background of palm trees to the sound of temple bells, and one necessary circumstance was that Kipling himself was only half civilized.

* Published in a volume of Collected Essays, THE WOUND AND THE BOW. [Orwell’s footnote, 1945]

Kipling is the only English writer of our time who has added phrases to the language. The phrases and neologisms which we take over and use without remembering their origin do not always come from writers we admire. It is strange, for instance, to hear the Nazi broadcasters referring to the Russian soldiers as ‘robots’, thus unconsciously borrowing a word from a Czech democrat whom they would have killed if they could have laid hands on him. Here are half a dozen phrases coined by Kipling which one sees quoted in leaderettes in the gutter press or overhears in saloon bars from people who have barely heard his name. It will be seen that they all have a certain characteristic in common:

East is East, and West is West.
The white man’s burden.
What do they know of England who only England know?
The female of the species is more deadly than the male.
Somewhere East of Suez.
Paying the Dane-geld.

There are various others, including some that have outlived their context by many years. The phrase ‘killing Kruger with your mouth’, for instance, was current till very recently. It is also possible that it was Kipling who first let loose the use of the word ‘Huns’ for Germans; at any rate he began using it as soon as the guns opened fire in 1914. But what the phrases I have listed above have in common is that they are all of them phrases which one utters semi-derisively (as it might be ‘For I’m to be Queen o’ the May, mother, I’m to be Queen o’ the May’), but which one is bound to make use of sooner or later. Nothing could exceed the contempt of the NEW STATESMAN, for instance, for Kipling, but how many times during the Munich period did the NEW STATESMAN find itself quoting that phrase about paying the Dane-geld*? The fact is that Kipling, apart from his snack-bar wisdom and his gift for packing much cheap picturesqueness into a few words (‘palm and pine’—‘east of Suez’—‘the road to Mandalay’), is generally talking about things that are of urgent interest. It does not matter, from this point of view, that thinking and decent people generally find themselves on the other side of the fence from him. ‘White man’s burden’ instantly conjures up a real problem, even if one feels that it ought to be altered to ‘black man’s burden’. One may disagree to the middle of one’s bones with the political attitude implied in ‘The Islanders’, but one cannot say that it is a frivolous attitude. Kipling deals in thoughts which are both vulgar and permanent. This raises the question of his special status as a poet, or verse-writer.

* On the first page of his recent book, ADAM AND EVE, Mr. Middleton Murry quotes the well-known lines:
There are nine and sixty ways Of constructing tribal lays, And every single one of them is right.
He attributes these lines to Thackeray. This is probably what is known as a ‘Freudian error.’ A civilized person would prefer not to quote Kipling — i.e. would prefer not to feel that it was Kipling who had expressed his thought for him. [Orwell’s footnote, 1945]

Mr. Eliot describes Kipling’s metrical work as ‘verse’ and not ‘poetry’, but adds that it is ‘GREAT verse’, and further qualifies this by saying that a writer can only be described as a ‘great verse-writer’ if there is some of his work ‘of which we cannot say whether it is verse or poetry’. Apparently Kipling was a versifier who occasionally wrote poems, in which case it was a pity that Mr. Eliot did not specify these poems by name. The trouble is that whenever an aesthetic judgment on Kipling’s work seems to be called for, Mr. Eliot is too much on the defensive to be able to speak plainly. What he does not say, and what I think one ought to start by saying in any discussion of Kipling, is that most of Kipling’s verse is so horribly vulgar that it gives one the same sensation as one gets from watching a third-rate music-hall performer recite ‘The Pigtail of Wu Fang Fu’ with the purple limelight on his face, AND yet there is much of it that is capable of giving pleasure to people who know what poetry means. At his worst, and also his most vital, in poems like ‘Gunga Din’ or ‘Danny Deever’, Kipling is almost a shameful pleasure, like the taste for cheap sweets that some people secretly carry into middle life. But even with his best passages one has the same sense of being seduced by something spurious, and yet unquestionably seduced. Unless one is merely a snob and a liar it is impossible to say that no one who cares for poetry could get any pleasure out of such lines as:

For the wind is in the palm trees, and the temple bells they say,
‘Come you back, you British soldier, come you back to Mandalay!’

and yet those lines are not poetry in the same sense as ‘Felix Randal’ or ‘When icicles hang by the wall’ are poetry. One can, perhaps, place Kipling more satisfactorily than by juggling with the words ‘verse’ and ‘poetry’, if one describes him simply as a good bad poet. He is as a poet what Harriet Beecher Stowe was as a novelist. And the mere existence of work of this kind, which is perceived by generation after generation to be vulgar and yet goes on being read, tells one something about the age we live in.

There is a great deal of good bad poetry in English, all of it, I should say, subsequent to 1790. Examples of good bad poems — I am deliberately choosing diverse ones — are ‘The Bridge of Sighs’, ‘When all the world is young, lad’, ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’, Bret Harte’s ‘Dickens in Camp’, ‘The Burial of Sir John Moore’, ‘Jenny Kissed Me’, ‘Keith of Ravelston’, ‘Casabianca’. All of these reek of sentimentality, and yet — not these particular poems, perhaps, but poems of this kind, are capable of giving true pleasure to people who can see clearly what is wrong with them. One could fill a fair-sized anthology with good bad poems, if it were not for the significant fact that good bad poetry is usually too well known to be worth reprinting. It is no use pretending that in an age like our own, ‘good’ poetry can have any genuine popularity. It is, and must be, the cult of a very few people, the least tolerated of the arts. Perhaps that statement needs a certain amount of qualification. True poetry can sometimes be acceptable to the mass of the people when it disguises itself as something else. One can see an example of this in the folk-poetry that England still possesses, certain nursery rhymes and mnemonic rhymes, for instance, and the songs that soldiers make up, including the words that go to some of the bugle-calls. But in general ours is a civilization in which the very word ‘poetry’ evokes a hostile snigger or, at best, the sort of frozen disgust that most people feel when they hear the word ‘God’. If you are good at playing the concertina you could probably go into the nearest public bar and get yourself an appreciative audience within five minutes. But what would be the attitude of that same audience if you suggested reading them Shakespeare’s sonnets, for instance? Good bad poetry, however, can get across to the most unpromising audiences if the right atmosphere has been worked up beforehand. Some months back Churchill produced a great effect by quoting Clough’s ‘Endeavour’ in one of his broadcast speeches. I listened to this speech among people who could certainly not be accused of caring for poetry, and I am convinced that the lapse into verse impressed them and did not embarrass them. But not even Churchill could have got away with it if he had quoted anything much better than this.

In so far as a writer of verse can be popular, Kipling has been and probably still is popular. In his own lifetime some of his poems travelled far beyond the bounds of the reading public, beyond the world of school prize-days, Boy Scout singsongs, limp-leather editions, pokerwork and calendars, and out into the yet vaster world of the music halls. Nevertheless, Mr. Eliot thinks it worth while to edit him, thus confessing to a taste which others share but are not always honest enough to mention. The fact that such a thing as good bad poetry can exist is a sign of the emotional overlap between the intellectual and the ordinary man. The intellectual is different from the ordinary man, but only in certain sections of his personality, and even then not all the time. But what is the peculiarity of a good bad poem? A good bad poem is a graceful monument to the obvious. It records in memorable form — for verse is a mnemonic device, among other things — some emotion which very nearly every human being can share. The merit of a poem like ‘When all the world is young, lad’ is that, however sentimental it may be, its sentiment is ‘true’ sentiment in the sense that you are bound to find yourself thinking the thought it expresses sooner or later; and then, if you happen to know the poem, it will come back into your mind and seem better than it did before. Such poems are a kind of rhyming proverb, and it is a fact that definitely popular poetry is usually gnomic or sententious. One example from Kipling will do:

White hands cling to the bridle rein,
Slipping the spur from the booted heel;
Tenderest voices cry ‘Turn again!’
Red lips tarnish the scabbarded steel:
Down to Gehenna or up to the Throne,
He travels the fastest who travels alone.

There is a vulgar thought vigorously expressed. It may not be true, but at any rate it is a thought that everyone thinks. Sooner or later you will have occasion to feel that he travels the fastest who travels alone, and there the thought is, ready made and, as it were, waiting for you. So the chances are that, having once heard this line, you will remember it.

One reason for Kipling’s power as a good bad poet I have already suggested — his sense of responsibility, which made it possible for him to have a world-view, even though it happened to be a false one. Although he had no direct connection with any political party, Kipling was a Conservative, a thing that does not exist nowadays. Those who now call themselves Conservatives are either Liberals, Fascists or the accomplices of Fascists. He identified himself with the ruling power and not with the opposition. In a gifted writer this seems to us strange and even disgusting, but it did have the advantage of giving Kipling a certain grip on reality. The ruling power is always faced with the question, ‘In such and such circumstances, what would you DO?’, whereas the opposition is not obliged to take responsibility or make any real decisions. Where it is a permanent and pensioned opposition, as in England, the quality of its thought deteriorates accordingly. Moreover, anyone who starts out with a pessimistic, reactionary view of life tends to be justified by events, for Utopia never arrives and ‘the gods of the copybook headings’, as Kipling himself put it, always return. Kipling sold out to the British governing class, not financially but emotionally. This warped his political judgment, for the British ruling class were not what he imagined, and it led him into abysses of folly and snobbery, but he gained a corresponding advantage from having at least tried to imagine what action and responsibility are like. It is a great thing in his favour that he is not witty, not ‘daring’, has no wish to ÉPATER LES BOURGEOIS. He dealt largely in platitudes, and since we live in a world of platitudes, much of what he said sticks. Even his worst follies seem less shallow and less irritating than the ‘enlightened’ utterances of the same period, such as Wilde’s epigrams or the collection of cracker-mottoes at the end of MAN AND SUPERMAN.

Source: CW13-948

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

6 Responses to Rudyard Kipling

  1. Walls on December 13, 2010 at 11:36 am

    I would love to quote and refer to this; is there an original source available that might be referenced?

  2. walker on December 13, 2010 at 12:35 pm

    Walls: look at the title. “Rudyard Kipling”. Beneath it is the source: Horizon, 1942.

  3. admin on December 13, 2010 at 3:32 pm

    Also available in volume 13 of the “The Complete Works of George Orwell” as item 948.

    More details here:
    http://georgeorwellnovels.com/site/source-for-george-orwell-letters-and-other-writings/

  4. David Friedman on March 28, 2011 at 2:49 am

    It’s an interesting piece, but I think it badly underestimates Kipling as a poet and says very little about him as a short story writer. For poetry, for example, consider “The Mary Gloster,” which is a Browning monolog that I think better than any of Browning’s. It isn’t good bad poetry, unless one considers “From a Spanish Cloister” and “The Bishop Orders His Tomb” to be good bad poetry.

  5. Nicole on February 26, 2013 at 5:40 pm

    50 unseen Rudyard Kipling poems discovered
    Scholar unearths trove of unpublished work by poet voted Britain’s favourite

    Alison Flood
    The Guardian, Monday 25 February 2013

    Kipling scholars are celebrating the publication of lost poems by the author whose exhortations in “If” to “keep your head when all about you / Are losing theirs and blaming it on you” are regularly voted the nation’s favourite poem. Discovered by the American scholar Thomas Pinney in an array of hiding places including family papers, the archive of a former head of the Cunard Line and during renovations at a Manhattan house, more than 50 previously unpublished poems by Rudyard Kipling will be released for the first time next month.

    The collection includes several poems dating from the first world war, which Kipling initially supported, helping his son John to gain a commission in the Irish Guards.

    A short poem, “The Gambler”, finishes with the couplet: “Three times wounded; three times gassed / Three times wrecked – I lost at last”, while another fragment runs: “This was a Godlike soul before it was crazed / No matter. The grave makes whole.”

    After his son’s death at the Battle of Loos in 1915, Kipling regretted his earlier enthusiasm for the conflict, writing in his “Epitaphs of the War”: “If any question why we died / Tell them, because our fathers lied”.

    Another poem discovered by Pinney, “The Press”, prefigures contemporary worries over media intrusion: “Have you any morals? / Does your genius burn? / Was your wife a what’s its name? / How much did she earn?” wrote the poet in a fit of anger at the questions he was asked by journalists. “Why don’t you write a play – / Why don’t you cut your hair? / Do you trim your toe-nails round / Or do you trim them square?” (The complete poem is reproduced at the foot of this article.)

    A discovery in a lighter mood is a stash of comic verse that Kipling wrote on a ship sailing from Adelaide to Ceylon, which is believed to have been read aloud by the author to his fellow passengers. “It was a ship of the P&O / Put forth to sail the sea,” wrote Kipling, going on to mourn the slow progress of the liner across the ocean. “The children played on the rotten deck / A monthly growing band / Of sea-bred sin born innocents / That never knew the land.”

    “Kipling has long been neglected by scholars probably for political reasons,” said Pinney, emeritus professor of English at the University of California. Despite winning the Nobel prize, Kipling’s reputation has suffered over his association with British imperialism – he was described as a “jingo imperialist” by George Orwell, who also called him “the prophet of British Imperialism”.

    “His texts have never properly been studied but things are starting to change,” said Pinney. “There is a treasure trove of uncollected, unpublished and unidentified work out there. I discovered another unrecorded item only recently and that sort of thing will keep happening. It is a tremendously exciting time for scholars and for fans of Kipling.”

    The 50 unpublished poems are being included alongside more than 1,300 of Kipling’s poems in the three-volume Cambridge Edition of The Poems of Rudyard Kipling, the first ever complete edition of his verse, out on 7 March.

    “They are all very engaging, and grab you immediately. A lot are very emotional little poems about the war, about his great identification with the ordinary British soldier, and his anger with the authorities,” said Linda Bree, arts and literature editorial director at Cambridge University Press.

    Bree agreed with Pinney that Kipling, who died in 1936 leaving behind books including The Jungle Book, Just So Stories and Kim, had been neglected by scholars until now. “I think, personally, it’s because his poems are very simple. They are about simple situations, and perhaps for that reason scholars have steered clear a little,” she said. “Perhaps they speak more clearly to the ordinary reader for that reason. And of course the imperial issue does make things more difficult. [But] he is one of the nation’s greatest poets … ‘If’ is one of the most popular poems in the English language, [and] this edition shows that he wrote much else to entertain, engage and challenge readers.”

    The Press by Rudyard Kipling

    Why don’t you write a play –
      Why don’t you cut your hair?
    Do you trim your toe-nails round
      Or do you trim them square?
    Tell it to the papers,
      Tell it every day.
    But, en passant, may I ask
      Why don’t you write a play?

    What’s your last religion?
      Have you got a creed?
    Do you dress in Jaeger-wool
      Sackcloth, silk or tweed?
    Name the books that helped you
      On the path you’ve trod.
    Do you use a little g
      When you write of God?

    Do you hope to enter
      Fame’s immortal dome?
    Do you put the washing out
      Or have it done at home?
    Have you any morals?
      Does your genius burn?
    Was you wife a what’s its name?
      How much did she earn?

    Had your friend a secret
      Sorrow, shame or vice –
    Have you promised not to tell
      What’s your lowest price?
    All the housemaid fancied
      All the butler guessed
    Tell it to the public press
      And we will do the rest.

    Why don’t you write a play?

    [September 1899]

  6. Louise P. on June 1, 2013 at 8:30 pm

    Rudyard Kipling ‘admitted to plagiarism in Jungle Book’
    A letter by the author has surfaced in which he writes that ‘it is extremely possible I have helped myself promiscuously’

    Alison Flood
    guardian.co.uk, 29 May 2013

    A letter in which Rudyard Kipling admits that “it is extremely possible that I have helped myself promiscuously” from other stories when writing The Jungle Book has been put up for sale.

    The one-page letter, written and signed by Kipling in around 1895, sees the author writing to an unknown correspondent following an inquiry about “The Law of the Jungle” – the rules of life in the jungle taught by Baloo to Mowgli in The Jungle Book, and later turned into a poem by Kipling in The Second Jungle Book.

    “Now this is the Law of the Jungle – as old and as true as the sky; / And the Wolf that shall keep it may prosper, but the Wolf that shall break it must die,” writes Kipling in his poem. “The Kill of the Pack is the meat of the Pack. Ye must eat where it lies; / And no one may carry away of that meat to his lair, or he dies.”

    The letter, acquired by Adam Andrusier, director of Adam Andrusier Autographs, at the New York Antiquarian book fair last month from a fellow UK manuscript dealer, sees Kipling acknowledging that parts of the hierarchical jungle code may have been borrowed from other sources.

    “I am afraid that all that code in its outlines has been manufactured to meet ‘the necessities of the case’: though a little of it is bodily taken from (Southern) Esquimaux rules for the division of spoils,” Kipling wrote in the letter. “In fact, it is extremely possible that I have helped myself promiscuously but at present cannot remember from whose stories I have stolen.”

    Andrusier is selling the letter for £2,500, and says that “letters by Kipling that mention his most enduring work are extremely rare”.

    “A letter that casts new light on an author’s celebrated work tends to capture the imagination of the collector,” said Andrusier. “Personally, I rather like his candidness about the possibility of his plagiarism in The Jungle Book; I think people tend to have a misapprehension about writing needing to be unswervingly original, when so much literature is either consciously or unconsciously borrowed.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *





My love & I walked in the dark

[1922-1927.  Written in Burma?] My love & I walked in the dark Of many a...

Close