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Stories and Poems of Rudyard Kipling ()


Nobel Prize Winners (1907)

    Kipling is a jingo imperialist, he is morally insensitive and aesthetically disgusting. It is better to
    start by admitting that, and then to try to find out why it is that he survives while the refined people
    who have sniggered at him seem to wear so badly
           -George Orwell

As we've discussed before (see Orrin's review of Kim), no author is more naturally embattled in trying to maintain his place in the Western Canon than Rudyard Kipling.  A white male, an unapologetic imperialist, a proselytizing ethnocentrist, everything about him runs counter to the tide of political correctness that has swept the academy.  And indeed, even those of us who still read and admire him must be brought up short at times when we stumble across some particularly brutal and unsavory racialist remark.  But I use the term racialist, rather than racist, for a reason.  There is no doubt that Kipling--like most of his contemporaries, nearly all of his predecessors, and many of us today--believed that the different races, religions and ethnic groups had certain general characteristics that pertained broadly throughout their groupings.  This concept is anathema today, when we instead turn a blind eye to these readily discernible differences and pretend that everyone is either identical or would be were it not for certain environmental factors and racist barriers.  Now in Kipling's time, as in our own, there were, and are, plenty of racists--those folks who look at these differences and draw conclusions about the physical and intellectual capacities of the races and about the relative worth of the respective races, and make stereotyped judgments about individuals, based solely on race.  This is morally repellent and it is fitting and proper to resist such people.    But it is improper to tar everyone who recognizes racial differences with the racist brush.  It is possible to believe that various characteristics differentiate the races without also believing that one race is per se "superior" to another or that individuals of a given race must be assumed to fit the broad profile of their race--this is what I mean by racialism.  Racialism makes assumptions about large groups based on the evidence before us, but makes no assumptions about individuals; each man is judged, not by the color of his skin, but by the content of his character.

This perhaps best illustrated in Kipling's great poem Gunga Din:

    You may talk o' gin and beer
    When you're quartered safe out here,
    And you're sent to penny-fights and Aldershot it,
    But when it comes to slaughter,
    You will do your work on water,
    And you'll lick the bloomin' boots o' them that's got it.

    Now in Injia's sunny clime,
    Where I used to spend my time,
    A-servin' of 'Er Majesty the Queen,
    Of all them blackfaced crew,
    The finest man I knew
    Was our regimental bhisti, Gunga Din.

    It was "Din! Din! Din!
    You limpin' lump of brick-dust, Gunga Din!
    Hi! Slippery hitherao,
    Water, get it! Panee lao,
    You squidgy-nosed old idol, Gunga Din!"

    The uniform 'e wore
    Was nothin' much before,
    And rather less than 'arf o' that be'ind,

    For a piece o' twisty rag
    And a goatskin water-bag
    Was all the field-equipment 'e could find.

    When the sweatin' troop-train lay
    In a sidin' through the day,
    When the 'eat would make your bloomin' eyebrows crawl,
    We shouted "Harry By!"
    Till our throats were bricky-dry,
    Then we wopped him 'cause 'e couldn't serve us all.

    It was "Din! Din! Din!
    You 'eathen, where the mischief 'ave you been?
    You put some juldee in it
    Or I'll marrow you this minute
    If you don't fill up my helmet, Gunga Din!"

    'E would dot and carry one
    Till the longest day was done,
    And 'e didn't seem to know the use of fear;
    If we charged or broke or cut,
    You could bet your bloomin' nut
    'E'd be waitin' fifty paces right flank rear.

    'E would skip to our attack,
    With 'is mussick on 'is back,
    And watch us till the bugles made "Retire",
    And for all 'is dirty hide,
    'E was white, clear white, inside
    When 'e went to tend the wounded under fire!

    It was "Din! Din! Din!"
    With the bullet kickin' dust spots on the green;
    When the cartridges ran out,
    You could hear the front lines shout,

    "Hi! Ammunition-mules an' Gunga Din!"
    I shan't forget the night
    When I dropped be'ind the fight
    With a bullet where my belt-plate should have been.
    I was chokin' mad with thirst,
    And the man that spied me first
    Was our good ol' grinnin', gruntin' Gunga Din.
    'E lifted up my head,
    And 'e plugged me where I bled,
    And 'e gave me 'arf a pint o' water green;

    It was crawlin' and it stunk,
    But of all the drinks I've drunk,
    I'm gratefullest to one from Gunga Din.

    It was "Din! Din! Din!

    'Ere's a beggar with a bullet through his spleen--
    'E's chawin up the ground,
    And 'e's kickin' all around,
    For Gawd's sake get the water, Gunga Din!"

    'E carried me away
    To where a dooli lay,
    And a bullet came and drilled the beggar clean.
    'E put me safe inside,
    And just before 'e died,
    "I 'ope you liked your drink," sez Gunga Din.

    So I'll see 'im later on,
    In the place where 'e is gone,
    Where it's always double drill and no canteen;
    'E'll be squattin' on the coals,
    Givin' drink to poor damned souls,
    And I'll get a swig in hell from Gunga Din!

    And it's "Din! Din! Din!"
    You Lazarushian-leather Gunga Din!
    Though I've belted you and flayed you,
    By the livin' God that made you,
    You're a better man than I am, Gunga Din!

Epithets like "blackfaced", "brick dust", "squidgy-nosed", etc., sound poorly in our modern ears, but, despite our visceral tendency to recoil, they should be read in context.  That context makes it abundantly clear that despite the casual brutality doled out by the British soldiers, Gunga Din was their equal, or even their superior, as a man.

Nor is this a unique instance in Kipling's writings.  His short story Without Benefit of Clergy is a poignant depiction of the love between a British officer and an Islamic native.  Their affair is necessarily clandestine, but there is nothing exploitative about it.

Or consider my favorite of Kipling's tales, The Man Who Would Be King.  It would be easy to dismiss this as simply another case of his jingoist prejudices at work, with two British ne'er-do-wells hoodwinking the simpleton natives and carving out their own kingdom.  But it can equally well be read as an allegory for the entire Imperial experience.  Ragtag whites come in and, at first, overawe the natives with advanced technology and administrative techniques, but their enterprise is doomed by native hostility once the initial wonder wears off.  That's hardly a dewy-eyed idealization of Colonialism, is it?

Take his great exhortatory poem, If:

    If you can keep your head when all about you
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
    If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;
    If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies,
    Or, being hated, don't give way to hating,
    And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise;

    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 imposters just the same;
    If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
    Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
    And stoop and build 'em up with wornout tools;

    If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
    And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breath a word about your loss;
    If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,
    And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on";

    If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
    Or walk with kings - nor lose the common touch;
    If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
    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!

Here is a definition of what makes a Man that makes no reference to race, religion, creed or class.  Implicit in the poem is the assumption that it is behavior which defines the person, not immutable physical characteristics.  And if you would be a Man, it is required that "all men count with you," but "none too much."  Kipling troubles us because he is not color blind--that insipid phrase that even conservatives resort too in today's politically charged debates on racial preferences--but even as he takes note of color, it seems to me that he refuses to use it as the basis for judging men.  How then dismiss him as a racist?

Finally, at some point we must trust our own senses, and the writings of Rudyard Kipling exude a love of India and her people, not contempt or racial animus.  In fact, his portrayals of India are in many ways more tender and sympathetic than those of the great modern Indian writers like Salman Rushdie (see Orrin's review of Midnight's Children), Rohinton Mistry and Arundhati Roy (see Orrin's review of The God of Small Things).   Of course, that odd fact is directly related to the disillusionment that has accompanied Indian independence--the racial hatreds that have erupted, the endemic corruption and the alternatingly unstable, incompetent and/or repressive governments, which is not to suggest that things would be any better had Kipling's Imperialists stayed and continued to shoulder "The White Man's Burden", rather, just noting one of those ironies that adds zest to life.

It is perfectly understandable that parents should be concerned about some of the language and attitudes their children will encounter when reading Kipling--just as they are rightly concerned about Huckleberry Finn (see Orrin's review).  These are issues which need to be discussed with children and there is no better way to introduce the topics than via great literature.  Make no mistake, Kipling's stories and poems are great literature.

(Reviewed:)

Grade: (A+)

  

Websites:

See also:

Rudyard Kipling (3 books reviewed)
Poetry
Nobel Prize Winners
Rudyard Kipling Links:

    -Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)(kirjasto)
    -Kipling Society homepage
    -The Nobel Prize in Literature 1907 (Official Site)
    -Rudyard Kipling Winner of the 1907 Nobel Prize in Literature (Nobel Prize Internet Archive)
    -Rudyard Kipling: An Overview (Victorian Web)
    -AITLC  Guide to   Rudyard Kipling (The ACCESS INDIANA Teaching & Learning Center)
    -BIO: Kipling: a Brief Biography  (David Cody, Associate Professor of English, Hartwick College, Victorian Web)
    -Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)(Ben Freer)
    -Rudyard Kipling (Spartacus)
    -Rudyard Kipling
    -Rudyard Kipling and Scouting
    -ETEXT: The Jungle Books (Project Gutenberg)
    -ANNOTATED ETEXT: The Jungle Book (Self Knowledge)
    -ETEXTS: Rudyard Kipling (Project Gutenberg)
    -ETEXTS: A COMPLETE COLLECTION OF POEMS  BY Rudyard Kipling
    -ETEXTS: Links to Etexts of (Joseph) Rudyard Kipling (Mumbai/Bombay)
    -ARTICLE: Marlboro Journal; 1892 Bank Box Opens A Lid on Kipling's Past  (FOX BUTTERFIELD, The New York Times)
    -ESSAY: Rudyard Kipling &  the god of things as they are  (John Derbyshire, New Criterion)
    -ESSAY: Diamonds are forever? Kipling's imperialism (Denis Judd, History Today)
    -ESSAY: Summary of the Mowgli Stories
    -ESSAY: Rudyard Kipling and Tacoma (Tacoma Public Library)
    -ESSAY: Kipling and Freemasonry (Grand Lodge Webmaster, Grand Lodge of British Columbia)
    -REVIEW: of THE JUNGLE BOOK By Rudyard Kipling. Illustrated by  Michael Foreman GUNGA DIN By Rudyard Kipling. Illustrated by Robert Andrew Parker (Jonathan Cott, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of RUDYARD KIPLING A Life By Harry Ricketts (RICHARD BERNSTEIN, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: John Bayley: Paleface, NY Review of Books
        Rudyard Kipling and His World by Kingsley Amis
        Kipling: The Glass, the Shadow and the Fire by Philip Mason
    -REVIEW: V.S. Pritchett: A Gentle-Violent Man, NY Review of Books
        The Strange Ride of Rudyard Kipling: His Life and Works by Angus Wilson
    -REVIEW: V. S. Pritchett: Contradictory Kipling, NY Review of Books
        Rudyard Kipling by Lord Birkenhead
    -REVIEW: of QUEST FOR KIM By Peter Hopkirk (RICHARD BERNSTEIN, NY times)
 

FILM:
    -BUY IT: The Jungle Book (1967)(Amazon.com)
    -Review of RUDYARD KIPLING'S THE JUNGLE BOOK 1994 (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times)

Book-related and General Links:
    -ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA: Your search: "rudyard kipling"
    -Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)(kirjasto)
    -Kipling Society homepage
    -The Nobel Prize in Literature 1907 (Official Site)
    -Rudyard Kipling Winner of the 1907 Nobel Prize in Literature (Nobel Prize Internet Archive)
    -Rudyard Kipling: An Overview (Victorian Web)
    -AITLC  Guide to   Rudyard Kipling (The ACCESS INDIANA Teaching & Learning Center)
    -BIO: Kipling: a Brief Biography  (David Cody, Associate Professor of English, Hartwick College, Victorian Web)
    -Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)(Ben Freer)
    -Rudyard Kipling (Spartacus)
    -Rudyard Kipling
    -Rudyard Kipling and Scouting
    -Literary Research Guide: Rudyard Kipling (1865 - 1936)
    -ETEXT: The Jungle Books (Project Gutenberg)
    -ANNOTATED ETEXT: The Jungle Book (Self Knowledge)
    -ETEXTS: Rudyard Kipling (Project Gutenberg)
    -ETEXTS: A COMPLETE COLLECTION OF POEMS  BY Rudyard Kipling
    -ETEXTS: Links to Etexts of (Joseph) Rudyard Kipling (Mumbai/Bombay)
    -ARTICLE: Marlboro Journal; 1892 Bank Box Opens A Lid on Kipling's Past  (FOX BUTTERFIELD, The New York Times)
    -ESSAY: Rudyard Kipling &  the god of things as they are  (John Derbyshire, New Criterion)
    -ESSAY: Diamonds are forever? Kipling's imperialism (Denis Judd, History Today)
    -ESSAY: Summary of the Mowgli Stories
    -ESSAY: Rudyard Kipling and Tacoma (Tacoma Public Library)
    -ESSAY: Kipling and Freemasonry (Grand Lodge Webmaster, Grand Lodge of British Columbia)
    -ESSAY : Kipling's agony over son lost in battle (Will Bennett, Daily Telegraph)
    -ARCHIVES : "Rudyard Kipling" (Find Articles)
    -REVIEW : of The Irish Guards in the Great War: The Second Battalion by Rudyard Kipling (Alan Judd, booksonline uk)
    -The White Man's Burden and it's Critics
    -REVIEW: KIM, by Rudyard Kipling (December 1901, The Atlantic)
    -REVIEW: JUST SO STORIES, by Rudyard Kipling ( H. W. Boynton, May 1903, The Atlantic)
    -REVIEW: of THE JUNGLE BOOK By Rudyard Kipling. Illustrated by  Michael Foreman GUNGA DIN By Rudyard Kipling. Illustrated by Robert Andrew Parker (Jonathan Cott, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of RUDYARD KIPLING A Life By Harry Ricketts (RICHARD BERNSTEIN, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: John Bayley: Paleface, NY Review of Books
        Rudyard Kipling and His World by Kingsley Amis
        Kipling: The Glass, the Shadow and the Fire by Philip Mason
    -REVIEW: V.S. Pritchett: A Gentle-Violent Man, NY Review of Books
        The Strange Ride of Rudyard Kipling: His Life and Works by Angus Wilson
    -REVIEW: V. S. Pritchett: Contradictory Kipling, NY Review of Books
        Rudyard Kipling by Lord Birkenhead
    -REVIEW : Rudyard Kipling's detractors dismiss him as a mere apologist for Empire. But his latest biographer, Andrew Lycett, found a very different man, one whose... (New Statesman, Andrew Lycett)
    -REVIEW: of QUEST FOR KIM By Peter Hopkirk (RICHARD BERNSTEIN, NY Times)

FILM:
    -FILMOGRAPHY : "Rudyard Kipling" (Imdb)
    -REVIEW : of "The Man Who Would Be King" He had to bide his time, but humane cynic John Huston finally got the chance to make one of the most sophisticated American entertainments ever
(Charles Taylor, Salon)

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