Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Rudyard Kipling: The Power Of Words

As we are about to welcome in a new year I thought it would be the perfect time to share some advice from one of the most entertaining and significant realists of the last two centuries. Many of us know him for his children's stories. Other may know him through the political and social controversies surrounding the author and his work. Regardless, he is a wise voice calling for us to either reaffirm the universal values that have made our society and civilization a reality or face a perilous future. 

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 worshiped 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!

The poem is, of course, The Gods of the Copybook Headings, written by the
the British author, Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936). He was the product of both India and England and infused his writing with the essence of Victorian times and the adventure of empire. Political correctness over the last fifty years has sadly pushed him into literary obscurity in most of academia, but he remains a beacon of reason and rhetoric especially among centrist and conservative thinkers. His works for children have never lost their popularity among young readers. 

Kipling and his wife spent about five years living at Bliss Cottage near Brattleboro, Vermont, just prior to the height of his career. In was in this setting that he produced some of his most memorable work including the Jungle Books, a short story collection, The Day's Work; his novel, Captain's Courageous; and a volume of poetry, The Seven Seas.

Our political and cultural slide to the left in the last few decades has brought Kipling's appreciation of realism to the fore. One of his most quoted poems that speaks to the necessity for reason and the folly of cultural relativism is The Gods of the Copybook Headings. Many readers have inquired about the poem since it appeared in this blog some years ago. I am pleased to present it once again for the uninitiated and for those in need of a Kipling booster.

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