November 07, 2005

"Why, you naughty boy. I've never Kippled!"

Today's choice is easy for me, a poet about whom I've written before, another one whose work my mother used to read me when I was too young to read it myself. It was when I was older, though, that I learned how much he'd written and found the pieces that rang truer for me.

is for Kipling.

"Something hidden. Go and find it. Go and look behind the Ranges -- "Something lost behind the Ranges. Lost and waiting for you. Go!"

That phrase rings up and down my spine every time I read it. Rudyard Kipling understood discontent, understood always wanting to know more, to go elsewhere, to see something new.

"Because my price was paid me ten times over by my Maker. But you wouldn't understand it. You go up and occupy."

He never quite understood that the White Man's Burden was a fallacy with tragic results, made up by himself rather than a law of nature, or that love for your own country doesn't have to mean trying to make the rest of the world look like it. Imperialism and its attendant racism were bred into the Victorians and Kipling never managed to escape it. But he had a few moments of glimmering on the verge of insight, with Tommy's respect for Fuzzy-Wuzzy, who "broke a British square" and for Gunga Din, who "didn't seem to know the use of fear":

'E would skip with our attack, An' watch us till the bugles made "Retire." An' for all 'is dirty 'ide, 'E was white, clear white, inside 45 When 'e went to tend the wounded under fire!

So I'll meet 'im later on
In the place where 'e is goneó 75
Where it's always double drill and no canteen;
'E'll be squattin' on the coals
Givin' drink to pore damned souls,
An' I'll get a swig in Hell from Gunga Din!

Din! Din! Din! 80
You Lazarushian-leather Gunga Din!
Tho' I've belted you an' flayed you,
By the livin' Gawd that made you,
You're a better man than I am, Gunga Din!

But even when Tommy wants to desert his twenty housemaids for a "neater, sweeter maiden in a cleaner, greener land", he and apparently his creator never quite managed to generalize individual nobility to general equality of worth.

So why read Kipling? Because his country's Imperialism is dismayingly reminiscent of my country's sometimes. It is a foul upsetting thing that we still send soldiers off to battle and then forget about them.

Because every so often, the variety of people the Empire let him meet did seem to teach something about respecting different paths:

IN FAITHS and Food and Books and Friends Give every soul her choice. For such as follow divers ends In divers lights rejoice. There is a glory of the Sun (íPity it passeth soon!) But those whose work is nearer done Look, rather, towards the Moon.

There is a glory of the Moon
When the hot hours have run;
But such as have not touched their noon
Give worship to the Sun.

There is a glory of the Stars,
Perfect on stilly ways;
But such as follow present wars
Pursue the Cometís blaze.

There is a glory in all things;
But each must find his own,
Sufficient for his reckonings,
Which is to him alone.

And mostly because, past the eminently singable words and the tarnish of time passed and the muck of Imperalism, sometimes Kipling's words flashed truth and poetry. So many of them are war poems, whose truths I hate to hear because they still apply so vividly. Some of them tell of days that are gone, ones I'm glad are past and ones I wish I'd seen. Some are just funny. Sometimes, no matter how much repetition has made them sound hackneyed, there's a truth worth hearing again. I have a few words taped on my rowing machine at home; when we've had our erg marathons I've copied them and taped them to the machine I was using. And I will copy the same words and bring them with me to Lousiana this weekend, and if I remember to bring tape, I will tape them on my boat where I can look at them for 42,195 meters up Cane River Lake:

"Hold On" --- the Will
Posted by dichroic at November 7, 2005 03:46 PM

Sometimes putting an author into his time it will be seen, I think, that perhaps they were a high cut above their contemporaries.

Thinking of some of the bigots in our country who will never admit things that Kipling did.

Hee, hee, we live about a mile east of Kipling Street which has several places we go to. Once when we were going somewhere I asked Heather, "Well dear, should we go Wadsworth or go Kipling ?" Now when Kipling is mentioned, I get a warning look from her to not get funny.

Posted by: Denver doug at November 7, 2005 06:21 PM
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