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Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.

                                                                                      Rudyard Kipling

 Greetings Kossacks. For this Installment of Favorite authors - we turn to another Edwardian era Englishman, much praised, somewhat maligned but who wrote fabulously, got a Nobel prize, and had the amazing ability to write brilliantly in novels, short stories, children's stories, travelogues, and poetry. He was a newspaperman for awhile, and I would bet he wrote some interesting newspaper articles. In part because he had the material to do so.

I refer of course to Joseph Rudyard Kipling, the most eloquent articulator of the British empire and with it all that was good, and all that was patronizingly bad.

Let's 'ave a look, shall we?

Joseph Rudyard Kipling could well be described as a true child of Empire; He was born in Mumbai in British India and traveled extensively over many of the empire's component parts; he also lived for awhile in Vermont of all places and at least for several years was quite happy there. One of the things he did was write travel books detailing where he had been;obviously they are now a bit dated, but bear perusing as examples of how to describe a setting perfectly; brisk pacing, avoidance of cliche, drawing the logical but not necessarily the obvious conclusion.

Here is a bit of verse Kipling wrote about his birth:

Mother of Cities to me,
For I was born in her gate,
Between the palms and the sea,
Where the world-end steamers wait.

One could spend a lot of time and space decribing his novels such as Kim, Captains Courageous and The Jungle Book. One could write a lot about his verse; even T.S. Eliot, who was not exactly a lover of either jingles or empire offered qualified praise. After all, who has not been inspired, even secretly by If cliched though it might be now:


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
etc. How many graduation cards has that verse spawned? And think about it, how easy it is to memorize, at least the first few lines. It sticks, which generally mean it was written exactly right. Perhaps you could even boil "The Fountainhead" down to those verses and save yourself a lot of time.

Nevertheless the example I would give of Kipling here - and the reason I am writing this on a very 21st century site such as DKos, which would regard Western imperialism as quaint at best. . .and some of our younger contributors might even need to have it explained to them, or at any rate have to look it up in wikipedia . . . is because of his short collection of tales that I read in elementary school and never forgot.

I refer of course to his 'Just So Stories'. (Get the pun of the title now?); a group of tales that explain in childlike terms how things as they are came to be. They are children's literature at its best, and I must admit I am starting to read them to my daughter now just for the pleasure of reading them again. In fact, they are very much fun to read aloud, almost more so then reading them to oneself, because of the cadence of the words.

Take the sound from "The Sing-Song of Old Man Kangaroo:


Not always was the kangaroo as now we do behold him, but a different animal with four short legs. He was grey and he was wooly and his pride was inordinate: he danced on an outcrop in the middle of Australia, and he went to the Little God Nqa.
    He went to Nqa at six before breakfast, saying 'Make me different from all other animals by five this afternoon'
    Up jumped Nqa from his seat in the sand-flat and shouted 'Go away'
    He was grey and he was wooly and his pride was inordinate: he danced on a rock-ledge in the middle of Australia, and he went to the Middle God Nquing.
    He went to Nquing at eight after breakfast, saying 'Make me different from all other animals; make me, also, wonderfully popular by five this afternoon'
    Up jumped Nquing from his burrow in the spinifex and shouted 'Go away'
    He was grey and he was wooly and his pride was inordinate: he danced on a sandback in the middle of Australia, and he went to the Big God Nquong.
    He went to Nquong at ten before dinner-time, saying 'Make me different from all other animals; make me popular and wonderfuly run after  by five this afternoon'
    Up jumped Nquong from his bath in the salt-pan and shouted 'Yes I will'
  Take my word for it, it is a lot of fun to read that to a child.

   Or take what I read first, a story of how the elephant got his trunk, "The Elephant's Child":


In the High and Far-Off Times the Elephant, O Best Beloved, had no trunk. He had only a blackish, bulgy nose, as big as a boot, that he could wiggle about from side to side; but he couldn't pick things up with it. But there was one elephant - a new elephant - an elephant's child - who was full of 'satiable curtiosity, and that means he asked ever so many questions.
Therein follows what has to be one of the funniest short stories of all time, let alone one of the best children's short stories ever written. He gets spanked, you see, by all his relatives, who are various African wildlife, when he dares ask the question "What does the Crocodile have for dinner". In fact he gets spanked whenever he asks a whole bunch of the sort of questions that children ask all the time. So he goes on his own journey to find the answer to that question, to the 'Great grey-green greasy Limpopo river, all set about with fever trees' to find out. And the Crocodile bites his nose, and the elephants child tries to pull away and the nose gets stretched, and, well, the rest becomes clear. By the way, I was greatly pleased to find out later that there really is a Limpopo river (it is the border between Zimbabwe and South Africa) and is in fact infected with Crocodiles. I also think that as a child I really liked the ending in which Elephant's child, because of his new nose, now gets to be the one who does the spanking.

The other stories in the collection are written in the same droll tone and are all great and onomatopoeic in the same way. You can laugh at the way the Stickly-Prickly Hedgehog and the Slow-Solid Tortoise outwit the slow-witted Painted Jaguar who comes to eat them, eventually learning to both curl up and swim and becoming armadillos. You can itch right along with the ill-mannered Rhinoceros, who gets his comeuppance after stealing a Parsee-man's cake, and as a consequence gets itchy crumbs forever placed in his hide. Any cat lover will absolutely recognize the attitude of the average cat, particularly to dogs, babies, and husbands in the household in "The Cat that Walked Alone". There is a funny type of Oriental creation-myth in "the Crab that Played with the Sea". And, if you can get beyond some very typical Edwardian era benign-colonial racism - and particularly if you interpret it in the context of more enlightened 21st century looking at the nineteenth, sort of like Huck Finn - there is "How the Leopard got his Spots", o best beloved. And one-two-three-Where's-Your-Breakfast.

Now obviously these are fables and not even children believe them literally, at least not when they get old enough to really understand the stories. But that isn't where their truth lies. Aside from the droll perfectly cadenced writing, I think they reveal a real truth about how people are: We make sense of the world by stories. We use narrative all the time; this can be both good or bad, based on how true those stories are (see the narrative that President Obama is a Kenyan socialist who somehow usurped the Presidency). This is a basic human trait not peculiar to children, or even the childish. It is why the best told stories stay with us. It is thus very cute to see a neolithic girl play about with her daddy and cause a bit of fuss when she draws a picture that doesn't come out quite right to a foreign tribesman who cannot speak the language of the tribe, and so later on is inspired to create the first alphabet. And, by the way, as the father of a rather willful daughter I can absolutely attest to the fact that they would much rather draw pictures and play about with their daddies as opposed to concentrating on their lessons.
   Which gets me to the point where I have to close with a down note here, one that will just give enough of a poignancy to these droll little tales - and maybe explain a bit of why they are as powerful as they are - by noting that Kipling's daughter, Josephine, for whom these tales were started as bedtime stories the author made up, maybe, died of pneumonia before these tales came out. So in the end, O best beloved, they are his elegy to his daughter, the one who probably asked,'Daddy, why does the elephant have such a long trunk?'

Or, to put it in verse:

I KEEP six honest serving-men
 (They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
 And How and Where and Who.
I send them over land and sea,
 I send them east and west;
But after they have worked for me,
 I give them all a rest.

I let them rest from nine till five,
 For I am busy then,
As well as breakfast, lunch, and tea,
 For they are hungry men.
But different folk have different views;
I know a person small—
She keeps ten million serving-men,
Who get no rest at all!

She sends'em abroad on her own affairs,
 From the second she opens her eyes—
One million Hows, two million Wheres,
And seven million Whys!

Originally posted to Readers and Book Lovers on Mon Apr 23, 2012 at 08:01 PM PDT.

Also republished by DKOMA and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I love Kipling, but (13+ / 0-)

    I think he's a tough sell on these boards:

    A million surplus Maggies are willing to bear the yoke;
And a woman is only a woman, but a good Cigar is a Smoke.
    Light me another Cuba -- I hold to my first-sworn vows.
If Maggie will have no rival, I'll have no Maggie for Spouse!

  •  I'm with you, Chet!!! (24+ / 0-)

    Kipling is a favorite read going back to my childhood, where my first reading of Rikki-Tikki-Tavi sent me rushing to read all I could from him.  For any who wish to enjoy Kipling at his best and most dramatic I'd recommend reading The Man Who Would Be King, followed by viewing the same tale as portrayed by Christopher Plummer, Sean Connery and Michael Caine, one of the best action/adventure films around.

    Liberal = We're all in this together
    Conservative = Every man for himself
    Who you gonna call?

    •  Yes that was a good one, and (11+ / 0-)

      I saw the movie when it first came out. You are correct, Connery, Caine and Plummer were first-rate. It is a monument to the price of trans-cultural ignorance
         Now I am not blind to the racism in that story either - the 'N' word is even used there once; and besides there are references to the mistaken belief (dogma in the nineteenth century) that white people came from the Caucasus. Whatever, we must look with 21st century racially enlightened eyes that see clearly, but can see in context.
         And now, if you'll excuse me, I have business south in Marwar junction . .  .

      An empty head is not really empty; it is stuffed with rubbish. Hence the difficulty of forcing anything into an empty head. -- Eric Hoffer

      by MichiganChet on Tue Apr 24, 2012 at 05:34:24 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  One movie worth re-watching (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        I'll not give too much away, except that both of the protagonists, Peachey Carnehan and Daniel Dravot return from a grand adventure in, respectively, ragged and worse condition. They (mostly Peachey, to be fair) relate their adventure to Kipling, including without judgment both their misguided enthusiasm and their many misdeeds.

        Although Peachey shows some signs of maybe having learned the beginnings of a lesson, neither admits regret. Neither shows any sign that knowing their adventure's tragic end would have prevented their taking of it.

        It's these young soldiers, doomed to happily undertake their own undoing, who stand in here for Empires in general.

        Why is there a Confederate Flag flying in Afghanistan?

        by chimpy on Tue Apr 24, 2012 at 04:52:33 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  John Huston had wanted to film (3+ / 0-)

      that one for years and his changes to the short story were very clever interweaving of some of his other stories. A much better job than the old B&W movies that tried to adapt Kipling.

      Character is what you are in the dark. Emilio Lizardo in Buckaroo Bonzai

      by Temmoku on Tue Apr 24, 2012 at 09:57:40 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I grew up on Just So Stories, read by my mom... (16+ / 0-)

    to close my eyes to sleep. I know how the elephant got his nose and why I'm a liberal, progressive Democrat voter. I'm in.

    I love nature, science and my dogs.

    by Polly Syllabic on Mon Apr 23, 2012 at 08:35:44 PM PDT

  •  There was a series using favorite actors (11+ / 0-)

    reciting children's stories and poems. I can still hear Jack Nicholson saying the Limpopo River. The story was about the elephant getting his trunk.
    Part One

    Part Two

    Science is hell bent on consensus. Dr. Michael Crichton said “Let’s be clear: The work of science has nothing to do with consensus... which is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right,”

    by Regina in a Sears Kit House on Mon Apr 23, 2012 at 10:06:04 PM PDT

  •  Thanks! Wonderful stuff! (8+ / 0-)

    I've never given Kipling much thought, but I think I will now.

    •  Kim is really a masterpiece, despite (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      roadbear, Translator

      Kipling's indulgences in white man's burden-style imperialism.  He's a complicated figure, no doubt.   I wrote a bit on his ambivalence here.

      Also: he's got a string of just plain masterful short stories.  "The Man Who Would Be King" is primo (there's a subtle switch in perspective near the end that just knocks me out.)  Though his India stories are rightfully his best-regarded, he also dabbles in horror and science fiction.

      For what it's worth I find Kipling's sexism more off-putting than his racism, not because sexism is any 'worse' than racism per se, but because he's more willing to think through the complications of race and his own shortcomings.  The sexist stuff he just assumes as true.

      Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

      by pico on Tue Apr 24, 2012 at 05:22:13 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  He was just about (0+ / 0-)

        as much of the anti bigot that could exist at the time.  Of course he used words and phases that now seem bigoted to us, but in the early 20th century none others would be understood to his target audience, the British gentry and nobility.

        And he made his point.  Read Recessional , written when he was Poet Laureate for Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee if you are not convinced.

        Kipling HATED the Empire and was quite sympathetic to the victims of it, on all sides of the seas.  His language has been misinterpreted to make him as a racist, and he was NOT.

        Warmest regards,


        I would rather die from the acute effects of a broken heart than from the chronic effects of an empty heart. Copyright, Dr. David W. Smith, 2011

        by Translator on Wed Apr 25, 2012 at 01:03:34 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  This is, due respect, a steaming pile: (0+ / 0-)
          He was just about as much of the anti bigot that could exist at the time.
          Ugh, no.  I can only assume that you don't have much knowledge of the era, either in its literature or its bigotries.  

          "Kipling" was not a single phenomenon.  As a young man he was a very eager defender of the Empire, and he grew disillusioned as he got older.  His attitude toward colonial natives oscillates between negative and sympathetic, but it's nearly always parochial.  His attitude toward women is worse.

          I'm sorry, but you can't keep drumming out "Recessional" (a poem which goes as far as invoking the "lesser breeds") as some sort of universal insight into Kipling's soul.  I'd suggest putting aside "Recessional" and reading more broadly, including Kipling's autobiographical notes and letters.  Have you read "Something of Myself"?  "Gehazi"?  "The Treasure and the Law"?  How about you don't lecture me on Kipling until you've read him a little more broadly, okay?

          Even Orwell, in defending Kipling's poems, notes that many of his attitudes are "ethically disgusting."  The are.  The same man who wrote "Recessional" wrote some pretty loathsome things about races he, at one time or another, despised.   A clear assessment of Kipling requires us to understand these contradictions together, not a dismissal of the ugly stuff as "misinterpretations".

          Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

          by pico on Wed Apr 25, 2012 at 02:12:51 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  The Hottentot and the Hun (0+ / 0-)

            Perhaps I'm misremembering, but I seem to have it in my head that in the context of the poem, the "lesser breeds without the law" refers not to a Victorian image of unenlightened savages in their jungle huts, but rather to those people with a "Might Makes Right" philosophy, like the militaristic Prussians of Kipling's day or the Nazis a couple of generations later.

            I'll need to re-read "Recessional".

            I think it's a mistake to say "Kipling's attitude towards Empire is..." because he had a long life stretching over a period of great change in the Empire and because he wrote a lot of stuff.  I think it's fair to say that his attitudes changed over the years, particularly after he lost his own son in the trenches of WWI.  And also, he had a ground-eye view of the Empire, so that even his most jingoistic works are tempered with what he had experienced of the underside of Empire.

            But then again, I have only a superficial familiarity with Kipling.  I could easily be wrong.

            "All the World's a Stage and Everyone's a Critic." -- Mervyn Alquist

            by quarkstomper on Wed Apr 25, 2012 at 04:28:44 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  Best Beloved (9+ / 0-)

    I have fond memories of reading these stories to my children. Nice representation of his work.

  •  Sorry, I really can't praise the author who wrote: (11+ / 0-)

    "Take up the White Man’s burden—

    Send forth the best ye breed—

    Go send your sons to exile

    To serve your captives' need

    To wait in heavy harness

    On fluttered folk and wild—

    Your new-caught, sullen peoples,

    Half devil and half child"

    He says the brown people he wants the white men to colonize are "half devil and half child." Really? REALLY, Rudyard?

    •  It is, alas, a clear telling of how his class felt (14+ / 0-)

      ...and how he was raised to think. I trust that all of us here condemn that attitude, but as an earlier comment noted, he "repeatedly overcomes his training, his birth, even his conscious beliefs."

      Kipling wrote a lot of verse that totally belies that attitude. I think sometimes our view of Kipling is strongly influenced by the biases of his collectors. Even Dr. Seuss was racist in some of his writings. I won't praise racist writings, but there is a lot that Kipling wrote that is worth a great deal of praise.

    •  Completely understand, but (11+ / 0-)

      As someone who has actually been deployed to this country's misbegotten land war in Asia (part III in my lifetime, IV if you count the marines in Lebanon) I would urge you , if possible, to look beyond the obvious - and not so obvious racism in the poem (the most blatent racism in it, in my view, is equating Western culture with white skin; I happen to think that enlightenment is quite variegated myself). Instead absorb the meaning of the folly of trying to impose your culteral values on another nation, particularly by military means: it is costly in blood and treasure, you get no thanks for it, and it has the implication that maybe you are better off not trying.

      An empty head is not really empty; it is stuffed with rubbish. Hence the difficulty of forcing anything into an empty head. -- Eric Hoffer

      by MichiganChet on Tue Apr 24, 2012 at 09:20:48 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  God, Man he said (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        "East is east, and West is west, and never the twain shall meet."

        He KNEW that Empire was evil!

        Warmest regards,


        I would rather die from the acute effects of a broken heart than from the chronic effects of an empty heart. Copyright, Dr. David W. Smith, 2011

        by Translator on Wed Apr 25, 2012 at 01:12:12 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  You are baiting me because you know (0+ / 0-)

          the next lines of the ballad:

          "Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God's great Judgment Seat;
          But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
          When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth"

          In other words, maybe there was a hint of enlightenment thinking deep down after all.

          An empty head is not really empty; it is stuffed with rubbish. Hence the difficulty of forcing anything into an empty head. -- Eric Hoffer

          by MichiganChet on Wed Apr 25, 2012 at 01:44:23 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  It's a supercilious mistake (4+ / 0-)

      to judge  people from the past by modern standards. Do you really think that if you had been born in Kipling's time you would have been unaffected by the attitudes and beliefs of all your contemporaries?

      GOP: Bankers, billionaires, suckers, and dupes.

      by gzodik on Tue Apr 24, 2012 at 10:33:54 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  There were many people more enlightened (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Jay C, chimpy, mythatsme, Translator

        I really don't buy the "man of his times" crap.  He was born in India and at an early age developed a fondness for Indian culture.  Yet he never fully appreciated the humanity of brown and black people coming under the British Empire.

        Compare him to David Livingstone the Scottish-British explorer and missionary.  Livingstone had his blind spots but he arrived in South Africa, learned the indigenous language, had long conversations with people (which he wrote about), appreciated their culture and manufacturing skills (he said Tswana knives were as good as those in Scotland) and became passionately committed to equality.

      •  well said. eom. (0+ / 0-)

        "You try to vote or participate in the government/ and the muh'fuckin' Democrats is actin' like Republicans" ~ Kweli -8.00, -6.56

        by joey c on Tue May 01, 2012 at 12:10:05 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  I have to ask -- have you -read- the poem in full? (5+ / 0-)

      It -- like Gunga Din -- appear to be written so full of sarcasm and irony that they drip it, in the most 'racist' portions, when taken in context with the rest of the poem.  After all, look at the last three stanzas in particular -- I'd say that these show that the initial, pro-imperialist, racist view that is taken in the first couple stanzas are not what Kipling's espousing -- he's warning against 'taking up the white man's burden'.  

      Of course, this is part of why Kipling's a fantastic writer; he can work many levels of meaning into his works.  He has a massive dose of dry british wit and is a master of the backhanded compliment, as it were, and you have to compensate for it.

      I'm not saying the man was a saint, but I can say that one cannot read his writings and come away thinking that the man supports british imperialism and hubris.

      •  Have to disagree. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        I like Kipling quite a bit, and I'll least defend him on ambivalence - he has a complicated relationship to imperialism - but that poem isn't a warning against white man's burden but a lament about how difficult it is to bring the lesser-developed peoples to enlightenment.    This is consistent with the rest of his work, too, where he believes that England has an important role to play in educating the developing world, a role he sometimes despaired of both because of misgivings about the imperial project in general and because of his fascination/repulsion with colonial culture (both Indian and, in the case of this poem, Filipino.)

        The warnings Kipling gives in the poem are that those who take up the burden to 'better' the colonies are going to face censure from all sides and no small dose of failure, so they should expect the abuse and accept their role with humility.  Ultimately the "judgment of your peers" will recognize your contribution, however "dear-bought" that wisdom may be.

        I can think of a lot of places where it's easier to defend Kipling's ambivalence, but this poem isn't really one of them.  

        Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

        by pico on Tue Apr 24, 2012 at 05:34:24 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Yes, I've read the whole poem. He means what he (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        says. He REALLY DOES want the white man to colonize the brown peoples. He really does think white culture = civilization; he really does tsk tsk and how the brown people won't appreciate the white people's efforts.

        •  Well, that is why folks have (0+ / 0-)

          different takes at art.  I find the opposite in his works, but if we all agree some of us would not be necessary.  LOL!

          I take it that we agree to disagree.

          Warmest regards,


          I would rather die from the acute effects of a broken heart than from the chronic effects of an empty heart. Copyright, Dr. David W. Smith, 2011

          by Translator on Wed Apr 25, 2012 at 01:20:01 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  You got it! (0+ / 0-)

        Although not perfect, he developed empathy for the people and for the soldiers.  He recognized that empire was wrong.

        Warmest regards,


        I would rather die from the acute effects of a broken heart than from the chronic effects of an empty heart. Copyright, Dr. David W. Smith, 2011

        by Translator on Wed Apr 25, 2012 at 01:16:31 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  He's still worth exploring. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Pope Buck I, Translator

      Even the most generous assessment of Kipling won't rescue him from the worst of his writings, but one reason we keep going back to Kipling is that he is a complicated and often contradictory writer.  "White Man's Burden" is one of the low points of his career without doubt, and it's not something to glibly dismiss as "of its time".  Yet he also wrote quite a bit that was skeptical of the whole white man's burden shtick.  Kipling produced some thirty volumes of work, after all.

      For my part I find it pretty fascinating to see him wrestle with the colonial project, from transparent racism to enlightened pluralism and back.  It's that kind of dissonance that keeps Kipling relevant...  He is worth exploring, still.

      Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

      by pico on Tue Apr 24, 2012 at 05:42:12 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I have a completely opposite (0+ / 0-)

        take on that poem.  I find it to be a very cautionary message to Victoria.

        Warmest regards,


        I would rather die from the acute effects of a broken heart than from the chronic effects of an empty heart. Copyright, Dr. David W. Smith, 2011

        by Translator on Wed Apr 25, 2012 at 01:21:52 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  I don't praise it either or the (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      attitude of the British elite "empire builders." But at least they had some skin in the game, mostly their younger sons'. Can you imagine any of Mitt's five leading troops in Afghanistan?  

      •  I have no intention to (0+ / 0-)

        bring them into this.  In Imperial England they went into battle for glory and to be knighted, and I trust that Romney's sons are above that.

        Warmest regards,


        I would rather die from the acute effects of a broken heart than from the chronic effects of an empty heart. Copyright, Dr. David W. Smith, 2011

        by Translator on Wed Apr 25, 2012 at 01:25:32 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Yoy miss the point! (0+ / 0-)

      He CONDEMNED what the Empire was doing!  The soldiers were just kids from the lowest class from the UK!

      And of course those new caught people were sullen!  They lost their freedom!

      Kipling was the late 19th and early 20th century counterpart of Dr. King.

      Warmest regards,


      I would rather die from the acute effects of a broken heart than from the chronic effects of an empty heart. Copyright, Dr. David W. Smith, 2011

      by Translator on Wed Apr 25, 2012 at 01:07:33 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Best Kipling (21+ / 0-)
    "If any question why we died, Tell them, because our fathers lied." - Rudyard Kipling, 1918

    "White-collar conservatives flashing down the street. Pointing their plastic finger at me."

    by BOHICA on Tue Apr 24, 2012 at 06:58:50 AM PDT

    •  Oh yes, written after his son died in the war (14+ / 0-)

      Maybe I can do a diary on Kipling's verse and quote 'Mesopotamia'

      Our dead shall not return to us while Day and Night divide--
        Never while the bars of sunset hold.
      But the idle-minded overlings who quibbled while they died,
        Shall they thrust for high employments as of old?

      Shall we only threaten and be angry for an hour:
        When the storm is ended shall we find
      How softly but how swiftly they have sidled back to power
        By the favour and contrivance of their kind?

      An empty head is not really empty; it is stuffed with rubbish. Hence the difficulty of forcing anything into an empty head. -- Eric Hoffer

      by MichiganChet on Tue Apr 24, 2012 at 09:02:01 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  You have tapped into some bittersweet memories (14+ / 0-)

    for me. As a child, my father read The Just So Stories and other works of Kipling to me, and through the years, we would prompt each other with lines and laugh at our ability to pick up just where we had left off years earlier.

    By age 80, he began what would be a seven year decline into the physical and mental ravages of Alzheimer's disease, and now it was my turn to read to him from Kipling and the other authors he loved.

    In the early stages, he could still recall some of the lines, like the "great, gray-green, greasy Limpopo River". As his disease progressed, he would occasionally find some passage familiar, and light up with a smile. Towards the end, I continued reading the same tales, and one afternoon he said (of a Just So story that had been one of his favorites: "that's a darn good story".

    I can never think of Kipling without remembering these experiences. Thank you for sharing your diary.

    P.S. For those who can't praise a Kipling because his work reflects the prejudices of the times, I sure wish that you could have known my dad. He was a kind-hearted, liberal, intellectual and pacifist who encouraged me to believe that I could succeed in any field I chose if I applied myself. He took great joy in my scientific career, as I did in his achievements in engineering design, music, translating operas, and crafting acrostics.

    Reading a variety of literature - even when it embodies views we now consider appalling - does not taint us; it makes us human.

    Some drink deeply from the river of knowledge. Others only gargle. -- Woody Allen

    by cassandracarolina on Tue Apr 24, 2012 at 07:17:06 AM PDT

  •  Kipling was one of the authors I could read to (10+ / 0-)

    a class of 16-21 year old Alternative (GED) high school students.  They would stay attentive until the end and ask for another story.

    If love could have saved you, you would have lived forever.

    by weck on Tue Apr 24, 2012 at 07:23:32 AM PDT

  •  Here's a wonderful piece by Kipling (8+ / 0-)

    This is the "Song to Mithras," the god of truth, courage, chastity, and fair dealing.  He was a favorite with Roman officers.  The priests of Mithras were called "father," and a handshake was their method of greeting.

    "A Song to Mithras"

    MITHRAS, God of the Morning, our trumpets waken the Wall!
    ' Rome is above the Nations, but Thou art over all!'
    Now as the names are answered, and the guards are marched away,
    Mithras, also a soldier, give us strength for the day!

    Mithras, God of the Noontide, the heather swims in the heat,
    Our helmets scorch our foreheads ; our sandals burn our feet.
    Now in the ungirt hour; now ere we blink and drowse,
    Mithras, also a soldier, keep us true to our vows !

    Mithras, God of the Sunset, low on the Western main,
    Thou descending immortal, immortal to rise again !
    Now when the watch is ended, now when the wine is drawn,
    Mithras, also a soldier, keep us pure till the dawn!

    Mithras, God of the Midnight, here where the great bull dies,
    Look on Thy children in darkness. Oh take our sacrifice !
    Many roads Thou hast fashioned: all of them lead to the Light,
    Mithras, also a soldier, teach us to die aright!

    Thanks for reminding me of the "Just So" stories.  I'll get a copy to read to my granddaughter.  The story I remember most is "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi."  Will I ever forget those cobras, Nag and his wife Nagaina! Yikes!

    "Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich."--Napoleon

    by Diana in NoVa on Tue Apr 24, 2012 at 07:34:05 AM PDT

  •  Difficult pill (11+ / 0-)

    As a mixed-race child of Empire, raised in a post-colonial society, I have very, very mixed feelings about Kipling. Yes, I love some of his writing, and I think the stories of the Jungle Books are buried so deeply in my psyche (these are things my mother read to me, probably before I could read) that they shaped who I am in a profound way (I'm a biologist...) But I find it hard to blithely dismiss him as simply a product of his time, or even praise him for transcending who he was raised to be.

    My paternal great-grandfathers would have been contemporaries of Kipling. Born in India these people - half devil, half child, in Kipling's eyes - left India for the Caribbean where they were both extremely successful, and one of them managed, apparently, to ingratiate himself into white society. But they were only valuable to the extent that they were burdens successfully lifted, and their children and grandchildren were raised to value their salvation from barbarism, to believe that they owed something to Empire when, in fact, the wealth they created in cacao and oil propped up the Empire and floated it through its wars.

    So thank you Kipling for shaping my love of nature. And fuck you for perpetuating dehumanising and degrading stereotypes that also helped shape who I am.

  •  My favorite lines are (9+ / 0-)

    If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat these two impostors just the same...

    by chloris creator on Tue Apr 24, 2012 at 07:47:43 AM PDT

  •  I have despised Kipling since reading Easterly (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RLF, Translator

    The White Man's Burden

    those savage wars of peace

    Kipling is a disgrace.  I dont give two shits how cute some of his poems are.

    •  Please read it again (0+ / 0-)

      after you have heard what I said.  He was ridiculing the powers, NOT the folks who were subjugated!

      Warmest regards,


      I would rather die from the acute effects of a broken heart than from the chronic effects of an empty heart. Copyright, Dr. David W. Smith, 2011

      by Translator on Wed Apr 25, 2012 at 01:39:48 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  The OP blog here is lame (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    By ignoring the controversy and leaving it to commenters to remind everyone what an ass Kipling was, you effed your post up big time.  Its one thing to bring up your warm syrupy memories of Kipling, but to ignore his dark side is lame, for lack of a better word.

    Its like trying to characterize Pat Robertson as a mellow pro-marijuana activist, and ignore all the rabid insanity he proudly espouses.

  •  I adored The Jungle Books. (8+ / 0-)

    I read these books over and over as a child, and the editions I got from the library also had the Just So Stories intermingled with Mowgli's adventures. As an adult I could not bear to watch the movies, which ruined everything.

    The original stories thrilled third and fifth grade classes I taught as a new teacher in the sixties; the kids loved to hear the expression "the great, gray-green, greasy Limpopo River," and I too was happy to discover that it was a real river.  Sadly, when my three daughters reached an age where they wanted to pick their own books, my favorites were never their choices, so it's hard to promise that any particular child will love a book.

    As for Kipling's 19th century views, that's when he lived, and very few in those days were able to see imperialism for what it was as well as he did.

  •  "STOB, STOB, YER HURTIG BE!" (6+ / 0-)

    Y'all can quote "If," but my favorite Kipling quote is from "How the Elephant Got His Trunk"

    "Ronald Reagan is DEAD! His policies live on but we're doing something about THAT!"

    by leftykook on Tue Apr 24, 2012 at 08:44:46 AM PDT

  •  You're *supposed* to be bothered ... (18+ / 0-)

    by the racism, imperialism and misogyny of writers like Kipling and Shakespeare.  It's why people need to read writers like them, or watch movies/cartoons/TV from earlier time periods.  To see what it once like compared to now, and to learn how to put things in context with their times.

    It's a sign of just how far we've come, and how much farther we have to go.

    •  And in our turn... (10+ / 0-)

      And in our turn, let us fervently hope that the people coming a hundred years after US will be able to perceive our good intentions and kind spirits, and overlook the prejudices and hatreds of our time - which we wittingly or unwittingly set forth.  None of us are pure, especially in the long view of history.  

      That said, any artist whose work survives a hundred years or more does so because he or she manages to distill some nugget of truth about humanity and the world - the bad parts as well as the good.  Kipling's racism and patronizing colonialism, which I thoroughly agree is massively present in his writing, is as instructive and useful as the "good stuff."  

      What matters is that he's able to distill that colonial viewpoint down to its ugly essence (though perhaps unconsciously) as eloquently as everything else in his oeuvre.  Do we suppose 21st-century American empire builders have no lessons to learn from the arrogance and patronization of 19th-century British empire builders?

      •  Agreed, but I strongly (0+ / 0-)

        suspect that our vernacular will be odd to them.

        Warmest regards,


        I would rather die from the acute effects of a broken heart than from the chronic effects of an empty heart. Copyright, Dr. David W. Smith, 2011

        by Translator on Wed Apr 25, 2012 at 01:44:17 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  "distill that colonial viewpoint" (0+ / 0-)

        That's where you are wrong. He distilled one colonial vewpoint which was indeed racist and ugly.  There were competing notions of what the British Empire should be.  Surprisingly many people who would become anti-colonial leaders in the mid 20th century were strong supporters of the Empire in the late 19th and early 20th century.

        The Empire lost support and collapsed precisely because its leaders chose Kipling's view of what the Empire should be rather than the view of millions of British people and colonial subjects.

      •  When people of the future read (0+ / 0-)

        or watch videos of the speeches/commentary of today, I'm sure they will conclude that we are all morans!

        Character is what you are in the dark. Emilio Lizardo in Buckaroo Bonzai

        by Temmoku on Wed Apr 25, 2012 at 05:21:41 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  My old man spent time on the banks of the Limpopo (8+ / 0-)

    Hunting crocodiles no less (they are generally bulletproof it turns out).  He knew the story by heart and loved to pass it on to the kids.  That and the Cat who walks by himself.

  •  My father (7+ / 0-)

    was high school educated, a union painter, a Korea war vet, a right winger before it was fashionable, and he liked to drink. He was also a voracious reader, with an astounding memory, and he could recite Kipling, Tennyson, Coleridge and others by memory. He would do this in bars from time to time, eliciting the applause and free drinks of others. One of the few things I have of his is a laminated version of Kiplings "If." I think he lived that poem. I have tried to live it. Kipling makes me think of him.

  •  My grandmother read Kipling to me (8+ / 0-)

    Growing up in the 1950's. I still have the beautifully illustrated edition from 1936. Grandma Faye, from Goshen, Indiana read with her mid-western accent and I can still hear her reading to me. Oh Best Beloved.

    Reading ANYTHING written in the 19 century or early 20th one must be prepared for the pervasive racism that was how most people saw the world. I recently read "Captain Blood" written by Rafael Sabatini in 1922. His story takes place in Barbados, where all of the main characters are white. No black pirates. The black slaves are all non-verbal "savages". Reading it is like looking at an old geological formation. That is what the world looked like back then to many people. I enjoyed the book but was constantly appalled at the racism.

    Try organic food, or as your grandparents called it, food.

    by madame damnable on Tue Apr 24, 2012 at 09:49:34 AM PDT

    •  Endemic racism (9+ / 0-)

      Which is another thing that made "Huckleberry Finn" so revolutionary.  Twain not only made a black person one of the main characters, he treated him like a complicated human being!  The nerve!

      One of my favorite facts about "Huck Finn" is that Twain was attacked IN HIS OWN TIME for using the "n-word" in the novel.  Because "the Civil War is over and civilized people don't talk like that any more!"  Twain's bemused defense to this staggering piece of denial was, well, the novel takes place BEFORE the Civil War and so he was just trying to reflect the truth of that less-enlightened time.

      Of course, this has NO bearing whatsoever on how the novel is taught today - when students invariably look puzzled at seeing the "n-word" and have to ask the teacher to explain what it means.

  •  Kipling is more complex than most people think (8+ / 0-)

    Just when you think you have him pigeonholed, you come across something that doesn't fit at all and you have to rethink your attitude.

    Wonder what some other posters would make of "The Sack of the Gods"?

    If it's
    Not your body,
    Then it's
    Not your choice
    And it's
    None of your damn business!

    by TheOtherMaven on Tue Apr 24, 2012 at 09:57:45 AM PDT

  •  Kipling rocks. nt (5+ / 0-)

    Came for the politics, stayed for the pooties.

    by DreamyAJ on Tue Apr 24, 2012 at 09:58:11 AM PDT

  •  Kipling was a racist -his "times" were no excuse (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Jay C, RLF

    People you really need to get over this "he was a product of his times" crap.  

    There were plenty of European people around in the 19th century who were a product of their times and rose above them.

    At one time in grad school, I had to read a lot of first hand accounts of explorers in Africa, including David Livingstone, the famous Scottish-British explorer.  Americans, if they know him at all, probably think of him as the object of Stanley's search for him and the famous line, "Doctor Livingstone, I presume" when Stanley found him.

    In fact, Livingstone was an amazing character from the early 19th century who started out with many of the prejudices of his time, but rose above them.

    When he arrived in South Africa, he learned one of the local languages (Tswana) and had long conversations with indigenous people about all sorts of things.  He reports in his books about watching them make steel knives and copper ornamental wire and asking questions.  He reports having long conversations about religion -- after all, he went there expecting to convert them to Christianity.  He was also a proponent of expanding the British Empire.

    Kipling also claims to have understood local Indian dialect and appreciated its culture, but he never seems to have realized that these exotic people were fully human.

    Livingstone became a passionate freedom fighter, fighting against the expansion of slavery, a gun runner (to arm indigenous people against raiders), explorer and propagandist.  He imagined an expanded British Empire that expanded to provide protection to black Africans threatened with slave raiding and that incorporated people as equals.  You read his diaries and you can read his mind working -- as when he has a long conversation with a "witch doctor" engaging in the practice of rainmaking and wonders whether it's that different from the Christianity he originally came to South Africa to promote -- after all how different is it to pray for rain and good crops at Sunday services from what this witch doctor was doing?

    Livingstone was a product of his time and had his limitations, but his fundamental impulse was toward empathy and equality -- despite some of the limits of his thinking.  That's probably because he grew up very poor in Scotland and didn't see himself as from the privileged classes of the Empire as Kipling did.  Livingstone adored and respected working people wherever he found them -- from the sorghum farmers of southern Africa to the cotton mills of Scotland where he had his formative experiences (he describes reading books in snatches between cycles of the cotton mill).

    Sorry, but there are no excuses for Kipling given the existence of people like Livingstone and many others.  

    •  So... (6+ / 0-)

      So, because ONE GUY from that era did have views that seem amazingly modern and agreeable to 21st-century readers, you're willing to write off all the billions of people who didn't happen to make that particular leap?

      Wow, dude.  That's harsh.  That's like saying that because that one guy from "Pursuit of Happyness" rose from homelessness to a lucrative Wall Street career, there's no excuse for everybody else doing it too, so we might as well scrap the safety net.

      None of us are arguing that readers today need to take Kipling's racism or arrogance at face value - just that we need to understand it in context.  His view was a lot more "normal" at the time than someone like Livingstone's.

      Hell, even Jesus said "masters should be kind to their slaves" rather than "there should be no slavery."  Because the idea of just getting rid of the (then-universally-accepted) institution of slavery never occured even to someone as enlightened as Jesus.  Should we write him off, too?

      •  Billions? (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        There were 1.6 billion people on the planet in 1900. And most of those were not Europeans. I rather doubt the hundreds of millions of Indians and Chinese people thought that they were "half devil, half child".

        And no, Jesus didn't say "masters be kind to their slaves". Paul did. And if you read his (genuine) letters in context, you'd realise that Paul wasn't endorsing slavery. Since I know nothing of first century abolitionists, I have no context to assess Paul's positions.

        Kipling is a different matter. There were plenty of people at the end of the 19th century who thought that non-white people were something more than "half devil, half child". In 1899, while Kipling was writing that poem, Gandhi (one of these devil/children, just three years Kipling's junior) was developing his philosophy of non-violence to challenge the might of empire.

        So no, Kipling did not speak for "billions". And no, the idea that non-white people were fully human wasn't just some crazy idea held by Livingstone - it was an idea widely held by liberals and embodied by people like Gandhi.

      •  Do you know what an "example" is? (0+ / 0-)

        I use Livingstone as an example because you can read his thoughts and evolution very clearly in his diaries.  There were the abolitionists, the anti-imperialists, the reformers, in the UK and US.  I could have cited Harriet Beecher Stowe, Mark Twain or Thoreau.

        You made a very silly argument by suggesting that Livingstone was one man.

        The 19th century required white people in Europe and America to take sides on some of the most serious human rights issues of all time and a remarkable number transcended their times and chose the right side.

        Kipling chose the wrong side.

    •  Livingstone worship is ok? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      He was a missionary who made precious few converts - but yes, did good.

      I don't know how good he was at all the local languages in the parts of Africa he explored, nor how poor Kipling may have been at the various local languages in India (where English is still a common language) - do you?  You talk of Livingstone learning THE local language as if there was only one, so I am sceptical.

      Even if Livingstone was perfect, does that have any relevance to whether or not Kipling was ok as a human, or a good author?  No and no.

      •  See above (0+ / 0-)

        First of all there were several phases in Livingstone's work and while laymen think of him primarily as an explorer in central and east Africa, his main use as a recorder of early modern African history was his work on what's now the South Africa-Botswana border where yes, Tswana, was THE language.  He spent a lot of time there, became fluent and reported many detailed conversations.

        Later historians used additional records to flesh out what Livingstone was doing that he didn't report on -- and that was basically arming the local people to resist conquest by the Boers.  That's why he was at that time pro Empire -- because there seemed to be only a choice between relative equality under the empire and slavery under the Boers.  So his work wasn't really evangelization but armed resistance.  Eventually the Boers attacked his settlement, burned down his house and that's when he began his explorations to the north as an attempt to end the slave trade -- again Christianization was no longer his main goal.

        This isn't Livingstone "worship" -- it's looking at two nineteenth century figures and seeing which transcended the racist notions of the day and which celebrated them.  I could have cited dozens of others like Livingstone, like Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe, or David Thoreau.

    •  I very much disagree. (0+ / 0-)

      If not for him, many of our attitudes would be 50 years old.


      I would rather die from the acute effects of a broken heart than from the chronic effects of an empty heart. Copyright, Dr. David W. Smith, 2011

      by Translator on Wed Apr 25, 2012 at 01:47:20 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •   2 for 2 (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Pope Buck I, zinger99, bluedust

    You've hit my favorites from both early childhood (Just So Stories) and mid-teens (LotR). Is Philip K. Dick next? :)

    "curls up, can't swim, stickly-prickly that's him."

    I understand the basis for those who object, but I should think those who insist on such purity must have very small bookshelves.

    Politics: A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. -- Ambrose Bierce

    by OkieByAccident on Tue Apr 24, 2012 at 12:11:29 PM PDT

  •  Granddad was a Scotsman - had (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Sue B, roadbear, zinger99, ybruti, Temmoku

    the complete works of RK, which I slowly worked my way through as a boy - loved the Jungle Book  - used to come back from swimming at the lake, & lie on the bed with the green trees outside the window, & read about Mowgli. Later, the poems, the Soldiers Three, Tommy Atkins & "here's to ya, Fuzzy Wuzzy, & the missus & the kids" & Danny Deaver, & "the first of the foemen of Boh Da Thone, was Captain O'Neil of the Black Tyrone" (if I'm remembering correctly). You couldn't really read Robert Heinlein right 'til you had read Kipling.

    Racism - well, there was a great deal of respect in Kipling's view of "the other". I think in those days people of other cultures & looks were regarded as really strongly different - exotic, strange - to a degree we today can't appreciate. The world had not smoothed itself out as much as it has today. We can feel kinship & familiarity with folks who must have appeared as totally alien back in his day - it's remarkable he finds as much to relate to as he does - he finds a great deal of common humanity, & courage, & wisdom, & courtesy, in his "natives". The pictures he paints are cruder than we would accept today, in his portraits of all races - but still image truth.

    "Never let your sense of morals get in the way of doing what's right." - Isaac Asimov

    by greenotron on Tue Apr 24, 2012 at 01:07:36 PM PDT

  •  WON'T Painted Jaguar be surprised! (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    roadbear, Translator, Temmoku

    I grew up with the Just So stories, this edition illustrated by my mother's godfather.  At one point I could recite all of Old Man Kangaroo, and I still use the Painted Jaguar quote whenever I'm particularly pleased with something've done.

    Rosa sat, so Martin could walk, So Barack could run, so our children can fly.

    by On Puget Sound on Tue Apr 24, 2012 at 01:21:43 PM PDT

    •  OMG that's the version I had!!! (0+ / 0-)

      Long gone I am afraid, but wow that brought back memories. Probably should get another copy

      An empty head is not really empty; it is stuffed with rubbish. Hence the difficulty of forcing anything into an empty head. -- Eric Hoffer

      by MichiganChet on Wed Apr 25, 2012 at 05:47:17 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Kipling (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    zinger99, Translator, Temmoku

    I read most of the Just-so stories as a child, then re-read them all just a couple of years ago as an adult. . They're the kind of things children should read - the vocabulary is understandable, but challenging enough that young readers will actually learn some new words and how to use them.

    Yes, he was a racist, sexist, imperialist, etc. - he was a man of his time, place and class. If he lived today, I don't doubt his attitudes would be a lot different.

  •  Toured Children's Theater (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Translator, Temmoku

    with adaptations of Kipling's Just So Stories for several years in Chicago. Always a hit. Me in the whale costume nibbling on teacher's toupees, improvising around torn crotches in the ol' costume, performing grossly hung-over (grade school nurse to me:"Young man, you need to go in that restroom right now and throw up"), and generally goofing off for kids' sakes and getting paid for the pleasure.

    Good times.

  •  his wife was American (5+ / 0-)

    from Brattleboro - hence the stay in Vermont.

    I see him as too easy to label.  Yes many patronising 'white man knows best' bits, but also had an appreciation of the working man and the 'native'.  Look at his creation of Tommy Atkins, and many have pointed out the respect for Gunga Din.

    His family connections wer amazing, to the pre Raphaelites thru Burne Jones, and to politicians such as Stanley Baldwin.  He was very successful as an author yes - but that didn't make him think he was necessarily a better man than the common soldier.

    Also very anti-war by 1918.

    and - OT - he had fine fine taste in houses.  Google Bateman's - super place!!!

  •  and his work is just the right length! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Translator, Temmoku

    Actually, I enjoyed and enjoy his work.

    In fact, I have started e-reading the 100 most important books (as Durant determined) and wow, what a group. Whitman, Emerson, Poe, and a few others make it, but not Kipling.

    What we call god is merely a living creature with superior technology & understanding. If their fragile egos demand prayer, they lose that superiority.

    by agnostic on Tue Apr 24, 2012 at 02:09:32 PM PDT

  •  So many times he is (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    misunderstood as racist, when in fact he was one of the very first white persons to oppose racism!  I included one of his poems just last week.

    Warmest regards,


    I would rather die from the acute effects of a broken heart than from the chronic effects of an empty heart. Copyright, Dr. David W. Smith, 2011

    by Translator on Wed Apr 25, 2012 at 12:47:03 AM PDT

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