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Kipling's Poetry

Kipling wasn't (just!) an imperialist

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1varielle
Edited: Mar 29, 2010, 1:36pm Top

We've mentioned in the other thread that Kipling was a man of contrasts, some of which are difficult to fathom. I've been on a Kipling kick of late. One of the funniest things I've ever read was a poem of his which I believe was called Municipality about an unfortunate individual who was chased into a sewer by a rogue elephant. Then I picked up a gruesome one this weekend about a grieving widow in England whose only son had the back of his head blown out in India and the vengeance extracted by his devoted native troops. Anyone have opinions on his poetry, which I find is best read aloud?

P.S.willgrstevens, I think you need a pic of Kipling Sahib.

2thorold
Mar 30, 2010, 6:28am Top

Only Kipling could have discovered that you can make "Commissariat elephant" fit into a line of poetry. At his best, he's a really amazing word-technician. Sometimes he uses that skill to say something profound, sometimes he just gets lost in the enjoyment of language and forgets what he was going to say, if anything. Flicking through, randomly, I just came across "The Deep-Sea Cables", which starts with four absolutely magical lines:


The wrecks dissolve above us; their dust drops down from afar --
Down to the dark, to the utter dark, where the blind white sea-snakes are.
There is no sound, no echo of sound, in the deserts of the deep,
Or the great grey level plains of ooze where the shell-burred cables creep.


...but then continues in total banality because he can't find anything interesting and original to say about what the deep-sea cables actually do. Of course, he's sometimes able to take the banality and run with it, as in "If", which says nothing at all but is endlessly quotable (like Polonius). And sometimes he does manage to bring his technique to bear to say something interesting, and you have to enjoy the way he does it even if you don't agree with his argument ("The female of the species"). And sometimes I find I do agree with him, as in "Paget, M.P.". Or you get something like "Gunga Din" or "Boots" or even "Mandalay" that looks superficial and jingoistic until you actually read it...

I agree about reading aloud (or reciting, or singing), especially for the poems written in dialect (Barrack-Room Ballads, etc.), where you otherwise tend to get distracted by the forest of apostrophes and lose track of the power of his language. But you do have to read them on the page as well, otherwise you find yourself remembering the refrains and forgetting the story.

3thorold
Mar 30, 2010, 8:30am Top

Another thought: where does Kipling's poetry fit in historically? I just did a bit of Wikipedia-surfing to try to get the dates sorted out in my mind, but it isn't easy to make sense of. A.E. Housman and Sir Henry Newbolt were more or less his contemporaries, Thomas Hardy a few years older, and obviously they overlap quite a lot with particular aspects of what Kipling does. Housman and Hardy, both do the "speaking in the voice of the common man" thing, and both write about the Boer War (have a look at Hardy's "Drummer Hodge", if you don't know it), but they are much more conservative in their language than Kipling. I get the feeling that Kipling never spent more than an hour or two on a lyric, while Housman and Hardy would polish for weeks (I have no evidence for this claim!). Newbolt did the patriotic drum-banging thing even better than Kipling, but it was his one and only trick (well, that and maintaining a façade of perfect respectability whilst living in a happy and successful ménage-à-trois...).

Otherwise, the only near-contemporaries of Kipling I could think of were Wilde and de la Mare, neither of whom really seems to fit in at all with what Kipling was doing. In the following generations, Masefield was the only obvious Kipling disciple, while there were all the Georgians (Bridges, Graves, Sassoon, etc.) who went the opposite way with very "high", anti-populist lyrics.

4willgrstevens
Mar 30, 2010, 9:14am Top

What about Robert Service as a Kipling disciple? Take 'The March of the Dead' - it can be found at http://theotherpages.org/poems/yukon03.html#yukon25

Many people would mistake it for Kipling - but, actually, it's not so good.

5thorold
Mar 30, 2010, 9:41am Top

>4 willgrstevens:
Yes, of course! I hadn't got around to thinking of North America. Service was only slightly younger than Kipling, but he didn't get going as a poet until quite late, so he would have known Kipling's early work. The Australian bush-poets Banjo Paterson and Henry Lawson were close contemporaries of Kipling, too.

6devenish
Mar 31, 2010, 11:50am Top

Has anyone a particular favorite (or indeed several)
Mine are,perhaps Boots;Cold Iron;The Female of the Species;My Boy Jack;Recessional;The Vampire;The 'Eathen.
I do agree with you that they are best read aloud.
In discussing similar poets,I would cite Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Edgar Wallace.

7willgrstevens
Apr 1, 2010, 4:44am Top

>6 devenish: Add 'Tommy', as far as I'm concerned. But perhaps I'm being sentimental - I actually have, in my time, been refused service in a pub because I was wearing uniform!

8thorold
Apr 1, 2010, 6:28am Top

>8 thorold:
Conan Doyle isn't someone I ever thought of as a poet: having found a few of his poems on the web, I can see why. He doesn't seem to have any feeling for words at all. Edgar Wallace was rather younger, and seems to have been another "Kipling disciple" - the example I found with a quick Google isn't up to Kipling's standard, but he does at least see poetry as requiring something more than just rhyme and metre.

Favourites: difficult - every time I dip into Kipling's poetry I seem to find new favourites and new duds. I don't much like "If" and "Recessional" - they're good poems, but they are too often quoted by people who annoy me. I am fond of some of the well-known ones, though - including "Mandalay", "Tommy", "Danny Deever" and the supremely incorrect "Fuzzy-Wuzzy" and "TFOTS". And a few of the oddities: "Mesopotamia", which manages somehow to be beutiful at the same time as it is angry and bitter; "A way through the woods" which is Kipling showing he can do Georgian if he wants to, and doing it very well indeed. And "The glory of the garden", which should be just as annoying as "Recessional", but somehow isn't. I tend to think of it being quoted from the pulpit in my youth by doddery old ministers who hadn't heard that Kipling was no longer appropriate for the modern age...

9willgrstevens
Edited: Apr 1, 2010, 7:13am Top

>8 thorold: Thanks for motivating me to reread 'The Glory of the Garden' - it's a brilliant piece!

Anyway, couldn't you give the poem a perfectly good Socialist interpretation - we all toil, in our own ways, for the good of all? Not that Kipling have seen his poem in that light, of course!

10thorold
Apr 1, 2010, 8:06am Top

>7 willgrstevens: School uniform? :-)

11overthemoon
Apr 1, 2010, 8:27am Top

I love A Way through the Woods, it evokes old English woodland full of copses and bluebells; in fact I love the book it is in, Rewards and Fairies.

12thorold
Apr 1, 2010, 10:01am Top

>9 willgrstevens:
It's what we were saying about Kipling's complexity again, isn't it? At one level it's glorifying work and (Christian) duty, in the same sort of way as George Herbert's "The Elixir" ("Who sweeps a room, as for thy laws, / Makes that and th’ action fine."). But it takes it a bit further, by saying that the person who does unpleasant manual work is making a bigger contribution than the person who says "Oh how beautiful". That does sound a bit socialist, in a William Morris way, or maybe like Ford Madox Brown's Work. But then there are all the military images ("thin red wall", etc.), and the parallels to the Garden of Eden in the last verse...

>11 overthemoon:
The way through the woods is used as the title of one of Colin Dexter's Morse stories: when I looked at your post the first time I misread it as "it evokes old English woodland full of corpses and bluebells..." - which it does, too.

13sarahemmm
Apr 1, 2010, 11:50am Top

> 1 Municipal

I believe in well-flushed culverts. . . .

What a fabulous poem! New to me, but I shall treasure it.

For those who are interested, his poems are available here: A Complete Collection of Poems by Rudyard Kipling

14varielle
Jun 3, 2010, 12:08pm Top

I recently found a selection by Kipling included in An Uncensored Anthology which was an anonymous collection of naughty poems from the 30s. (At least naughty for the day, tame by today's standards).

15sarahemmm
Jun 6, 2010, 9:01am Top

Were they good, varielle?

16varielle
Jun 6, 2010, 6:00pm Top

Quite, but he was so circumspect in his phraseology you really had to think about it to catch the true drift.

17sarahemmm
Jun 7, 2010, 2:30am Top

I see only on member has it - and it didn't come up on a search of the BL - but does sound interesting, for a read at least.

18varielle
Jun 7, 2010, 11:04am Top

There's acctually 11 on LT. It needs a little combining help.

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