Saturday, April 4, 2020

Rudyard Kipling: Selected Poems

Rudyard Kipling: Selected Poems


Rudyard Kipling is perhaps best known for The Jungle Book, but he was also a prolific poet, writing over 500 poems. Some of his most beloved and best known are included in Selected Poems, such as: If, The White Man’s Burden, Gunga Din, and The Law of the Jungle.

I am not a serious student of poetry, but as a layman, I can say his poetry is at times fun, at others poignant, at others bitter-sweet, and at others rather bewildering. Kipling was certainly not bound to any particular meter or form. Some of his poems were quite easy to read, with a pleasing rhythm, and others were quite complex, with unusual meter, and for me, somewhat less enjoyable. 

I think T.S. Eliot put it very adeptly. He says Kipling was
…a writer impossible to wholly understand and quite impossible to belittle
Or another poet, Alison Brackenbury put it
Kipling is poetry's Dickens…

By today’s standards he was a shameless imperialist, as seemingly revealed in The White Man’s Burden, when he refers to
          Your new-caught sullen peoples, 
          Half devil and half child

But it is difficult to know when Kipling is being arrogant and when he is being ironic – a point debated even among scholars.

If you care for this reader’s unscholarly opinion: I think a little of both. Kipling was a British Imperialist, there is no doubt
Excerpt from The English Flag

          What is the Flag of England? Ye have but my reefs to dare,
          Ye have but my seas to furrow. Go forth for it is there!

But I think he also saw cost, and sin, and shame in it, and used his art to lament and to glory.
Such as in The Settler, which is about living in peace after war (British settler in South Africa after the war)

          And when we bring old fights to mind,
          We will not remember the sin – 
          If there be blood on his head of my kind,
          Or blood on my head of his kin

So back to his art – the man could write.

I particularly liked The Law of the Jungle, which to be more precise is the Wolf Pack law

          As the creeper that girdles the tree-trunk
          the Law runneth forward and back – 
          for the strength of the Pack is the Wolf
          and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack

(stanzas later)
          Ye may kill for yourselves, and your mates, and your cubs
          as they need, and ye can;
          But kill not for pleasure of killing,
          and seven times never kill Man!

But my favorite was If – a father’s advice to his son

          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 impostors just the same;

(concluding stanza)
          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!

Other poems I liked:
The Young British Soldier

When Earth’s Last Picture is Painted (about how artists will employ their craft in Paradise)

Pussy Can Sit by the Fire and Sing (the virtues of dog vs cat)

Dirge of Dead Sisters (a tribute to nurses who died in the South African War)

The Benefactors (ironically named, recounts the tale of how man’s weapons have “progressed” thru the ages.)

Quite fittingly, and cited in entirety, The Appeal is the final poem of this collection:

         The Appeal
          If I have given you delight
          By aught that I have done,
          Let me lie quiet in that night
          Which shall be yours anon:

          And for the little, little span
          The dead are borne in mind,
          Seek not to question other than
          The books I leave behind.

This collection satisfies square G-3, Poetry or Essay Collection, in the 2020 Classic BINGO Challenge

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