Kipling Wouldn’t Have Been Surprised


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.

George Orwell, on Kipling




As faithful readers of this blog know, I have a great fondness for the poetry of Rudyard Kipling.  I do not think he would have been surprised by this current controversy:


A jingo imperialist” as George Orwell called him, or “the most complete man of genius” that Henry James held up as an ideal, how does one solve a conundrum like Rudyard Kipling? Over eight decades after his death, Kipling’s literary reputation continues to see-saw. The latest in this debate has seen Britain’s first Nobel Laureate’s 20th century ode to stoicism, If, being scrubbed off the walls of Manchester University’s recently renovated Students’ Union, as a protest against his endorsement of the British Empire.

This negation of Kipling’s literary legacy as a by-product of his political views can, however, only be seen as cultural grandstanding. Admittedly, a lot of the criticism for the India-born author is directly linked to the propagandist views that he espoused in works such as his now (infamous) poem, The White Man’s Burden (1899), but to read contemporary meaning into products of a bygone era is mere moral posturing that is shorn both of context and substance. If Kipling was a champion of imperialism, he was also one of the most versatile writers of his time, whose mastery over forms such as the short story and the novel remain undisputed, and who wrote for adults and children with equal proficiency. His stories for children, be it The Jungle Book (1894) or Kim (1901), brim with a fabulist’s temerity for adventure and satire, and continue to enthrall generations of youngsters.

Go here to read the rest.  Kipling, who had a keen understanding of the folly of Man, saw all this coming:


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 worshipped 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!

More to explorer


  1. Wow. This is getting out of hand, but you can’t get anyone to care. Any complaints are discarded as the product of white butt-hurt or white privilege or right wing media hysterics. I wonder how many are going to have to go the way of James Gunn before they figure out why this trend we’re seeing is bad on so many levels.

  2. Thanks for sharing Kipling’s poem, Don. I am also a longstanding admirer.
    Although the source of “brave new world” in Huxley’s wonderful novel is understandably sourced to Shakespeare, one cannot help but observe the relationship between Huxley’s warnings and Kipling’s.

  3. It’s as if he had our time in mind. Remarkable truths. Thanks Mr. McClarey. On target poem.

  4. I have two (I had thought I lost it and bought another) full anthologies of Kipling’s poems and one of his short stories. All are frequently read. His “Soldiers Three” (Learoyd, Mulvaney and Ortheris) and “Plain Tales From The Hills” are all good.

    The post-moderns hate him. They know that their universal lies can’t stand the light of truth.

    Kipling doesn’t promote their article of faith: the white man is all evil. He persists because he provides edification and (poetic) beauty (the goals of art), and true life. “Girls” don’t get him because they are, well, girls.

    To clarify “girls” include democrats, gays, liberals, socialists, trannies, and other assorted low-lifes; not gender

  5. Wisdom endures.

    Forgive me but can someone explain to me why the term “Copybook Headings”? I feel like there is a fragment of culture I’m missing.

  6. Nate-
    Kids would work on handwriting by copying phrases; sometimes poems, sometimes prayers, but most commonly short bits of wisdom like “The wages of sin is death” and “better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.”

    Like “the quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog” but for handwriting practice.

  7. Thank you, @Foxfier for the info. I was somewhere that I couldn’t watch either video. (do both of them explain it?) That all makes sense now and makes me weep for what we’ve lost in our education. Is it any wonder Jordan B Peterson has grown in popularity? The Gods of the Copybook Headings will find their prophet.

  8. Foxfier

    They also appear on Samplers, when young girls were learning embroidery.

    I have dozens of them (we are a family that throws nothing away), including a number of them made into fire-screens.

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