Thursday, April 06, 2006

Rudyard Kipling, New Englander (Grieving parents in war, Part III)

Rudyard Kipling's name has come up in the comments section twice recently. The first time was in the context of this comment, in which Richard Aubrey mentions that:

Kipling, in his "Kim" has a retired officer of Indian cavalry talking to a Buddhist monk. I believe the officer's comment to the monk's reproach to his career of fighting went like, "War is an ill think, as I surely know. But 'twould be an ill world for weaponless dreamers if evil men were not now and then slain."

Not a bad description of the way in which the military makes the world safe for pacifists.

And then, in my poetic thread of yesterday, commenter Ymarsakar mentions Kipling's poem "If," and offers up a sampling of his other work, including "The White Man's Burden."

That was enough to get me started on doing some research on Kipling--a man who was a giant in his own day, then faded in public estimation, but is undergoing a recent revival. The reasons for his rise, fall, and then slight rise again involve both literary fashion and the political.

Kipling was a very traditional poet; and in particular a rhyming, storytelling, and dialect-using poet; certainly not the type of thing that's been in vogue for quite some time. But, as Ymarsakar points out, his is a type of poetry people can really understand; it's very accessible.

Of course, the second (and perhaps even more relevant) reason for the ups and downs of Kipling's career is his politics. He is seen--rightly or wrongly--as an apologist for colonialism and imperialism, and the "White Man's Burden" poem (and the phrase itself), are considered un-PC to the max, the very essence of what's wrong with imperialism.

I'm not a Kipling expert, and I'm not yet ready to write the definitive post on his work; this certainly isn't it, if that's what you're looking for. But in doing my research I was reminded of the fact that Kipling, the quintessential author of the age of the British Empire at its zenith, was also a New Englander.

What, you ask? Yes, a New Englander. Kipling married a Vermont woman and they lived there for four years early in their marriage. I once knew that fact (although I'd certainly forgotten it) because about thirty years ago I'd happened across the house where they'd lived in Brattleboro while snowshoeing with some friends who lived in the town. They pointed it out; at the time, it wasn't open to the public, but now it is:

They make an unlikely group of New Englanders: Mowgli, the boy raised by wolves and who talked with the animals; Shere Khan, the ruthless tiger; Bagheera, the fearsome panther. Indeed, though the jungle boy and the creatures who inhabit The Jungle Books of Rudyard Kipling were conceived in India during the author's childhood, they were given birth half a world away in the thoroughly unexotic setting of a small Vermont village. The first portion of The Jungle Books was published in the U.S. in 1894 (a second followed in 1895).

...Recently, the house where Mowgli was born has been restored by the Landmark Trust, a British nonprofit foundation devoted to preserving historic British homes. Landmark Trust properties are not restored to be museums, but for use as unconventional guest homes.

On a bluff outside Brattleboro, the library, gardens and spacious living quarters at "Naulakha" are active again, reincarnated as perhaps Vermont's most unusual summer vacation home/winter ski chalet.

So, this is where some of the Jungle Books were written and Kipling's first two children were born. He and his wife had retreated there after being repulsed by New York City:

If his American surroundings are any indication, the Kipling of Naulakha hardly resembled the imperial father figure he later became. Wandering the house, a visitor inevitably attempts to conjure the man with the assistance of an amusing contemporary newspaper report: "he wears shabby clothes, drives shaggy horses, is always saying, 'Begad' and plays with the baby."

Rural Vermont or not, though, he never failed at Naulakha to dress for dinner. Remarkably, Kipling even played games at Naulakha -- the USGA credits him with inventing snow golf there (a winter version played with distinctive red balls and tin cans for cups), and à la Mark Twain, he installed a billiards table in the attic. On a visit from Britain, Arthur Conan Doyle brought Kipling a pair of skis and, it is said, introduced the sport to Vermont.

The thematic principle of the house's design is decidedly playful, too. In a curious conceit, Kipling intended Naulakha to resemble a ship. At 90 feet by 24 feet, the house is unusually long and narrow with the author's library and office at the "bow," the kitchen at the "stern." According to David Tansey, an architectural historian and the Landmark Trust's US representative, the author was possibly inspired by elegant Kashmiri houseboats he had known in India.

I don't know about you, but the idea that skiing came to Vermont via Kipling via Arthur Conan Doyle fills me with wonderment. And I love the fact that Kipling invented winter golf, a sport I didn't even know existed.

Kipling's American sojourn--though filled with joy at the beginning--had a sad, and then an even sadder ending:

When a family quarrel erupted between Kipling and an alcoholic brother-in-the law, the fallout obliterated whatever joy had formerly illuminated Naulakha. The author's family left Vermont in 1896, and they returned to America only once with tragic consequences. Following a rough Atlantic crossing to New York in 1899, Kipling and six-year-old daughter Josephine fell seriously ill. He fought pneumonia and recovered; his "little American" and the "best beloved" child to whom he had recited the Just-So Stories in the Naulakha nursery did not. The Kiplings soon left America heartbroken and forever.

And then things got even worse; Josephine was not the only child Kipling lost. His son John was killed at the age of eighteen in World War I, leaving only one surviving child, a daughter.

The death of his son fighting in WWI engendered a lifelong grief in both Kipling and his wife. The body of John ("Jack") Kipling was never found, although there were false claims in the 1990's that it had been:

Triumphant official claims to have ended the 83-year search for the body of John Kipling, only son of the patriotic author Rudyard Kipling, are wrong, according to a six-year investigation due out this autumn.

The soldier, only 18 when he was killed in September 1915, remains one of Britain's half million "lost boys" missing in the first world war. His headstone, placed on a grave in France by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in 1992, is false.

This is the verdict - reached "with much sadness" - of My Boy Jack?, a study by two long-established military authors. Their finding is endorsed by an expert panel, which includes a judge and the museum curator of Lieutenant John Kipling's old regiment, the Irish Guards.

Last night, Michael Smith, secretary of the Kipling Society, said: "This is a shame. Most people had been led to believe by the commission that John had at last been laid to rest - and that Rudyard's soul need no longer be in torment".

The "My Boy Jack" reference is to a poem Kipling wrote on the subject after his son's death:

“Have you news of my boy Jack?”
Not this tide.
“When d’you think that he’ll come back?”
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

“Has any one else had word of him?”
Not this tide.
For what is sunk will hardly swim,
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

“Oh, dear, what comfort can I find?”
None this tide,
Nor any tide,
Except he did not shame his kind—
Not even with that wind blowing, and that tide.

Then hold your head up all the more,
This tide,
And every tide;
Because he was the son you bore,
And gave to that wind blowing and that tide!

[NOTE: See, also, my series "Grieving parents in war," Part I and Part II.]


At 1:03 PM, April 06, 2006, Blogger SippicanCottage said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 2:24 PM, April 06, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've taken a lot of flak over the years for insisting Kipling is a great poet, and for the usual reasons - imperialist, racist, etc. I've noticed "Artsy types", of which we have a lot around my neck of the woods, don't seem to hold it aginst Ezra Pound that he was a traitor but have no problem detesting Kipling because he embraced British imperialism.

I think probably another reason these types detest him so much is that he is also a soldier's poet. "Tommy" has to be the first and last word of indictment of how most civilians treat, and feel about, soldiers.

And to think most of his books that I own I purchased from a Quaker bookseller in town.

And I must agree with sippicancottage about "The Man Who Would Be King". Now, if only some enterprising film maker would make "The Guns of the Fore and Aft" into a movie.

At 2:41 PM, April 06, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That would be "The Drums of the Fore and Aft" - the one about two otherwise shiftless drummer-boys who stand their ground when their regiment runs away in a battle. It would make a great movie. So would a compilation of his stories about Pvts. Ortheris, Learoyd, and Mulvaney - most of which are less potentially-offensive than "The man Who Would Be King." But good luck finding anyone in PC Land to film them.

I always got the impression that Kipling's ideas about the Raj - and about the Indians themselves - were more nuanced than he's given credit for. Wonder if he'll ever be "rehabilitated?"

At 3:03 PM, April 06, 2006, Blogger neo-neocon said...

Terry A. Hoover: if I ever write another Kipling post (and I may), I plan to go into the fact that Kipling's defense of imperialism was considerably more nuanced than most cursory readers know.

Although, unfortunately, Kipling was apparently anti-Semitic.

At 3:03 PM, April 06, 2006, Blogger neo-neocon said...

sb: hadn't read your comment yet when I wrote mine. Guess it was one of those ideas whose time had come.

At 3:42 PM, April 06, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

It is always strange to learn that Kipling was not British, since he was born in India. Yet he is every bit as British as a native Briton. That is quite American esque in a way.

People from foreign lands, take new root in new lands, and give their fruit to that land's wars.

The White Man's Burden is quite Un PC. To the extent, that it is so funny, because many of the lines in that poem applies directly to Iraq and the United States.

The social political aspects have not changed after. And I don't know how someone reading Kipling's White Man's Burden cannot see the relation. But I can grasp the abstract possibility.

The Middle East, is it not half devil child? Those who cannot take responsibility for themselves, and at the same time are not civilized.

Send forth the best ye breed --
Go bind your sons to exile

Does not the United States send forth our best patriots, and bind our sons to exile in foreign lands?

Colonialism wasn't too bad, cut and run colonialism was a damn disaster however. People go in, cut up the culture and politics, and then they run away. So the Left blames Colonialism for interference, I blame them for not finishing the work that they started. Very Jacksonian so to speak.

If you recall, Roosevelt demanded as a quid pro quo for aid to Britain, for Britain to relinquish hold of colonies afterwards. But even without Roosevelt, a war wearied Britain had not the resources to do anything with the colonies.

To seek another's profit,
And work another's gain.

Whose profit does liberty gain? Whose work does freedom provide?

Take up the White Man's burden --
The savage wars of peace --
Fill full the mouth of Famine
And bid the sickness cease;

Peacekeeping, Darfur, Rwanda, Kosovo, Somalia. Feed the famished, the poor struck by Earthquakes in Pakistan and Tsunamis in Indonesia. Provide for the ceasation of sickness, through blood paid treasure.

And when your goal is nearest
The end for others sought,
Watch Sloth and heathen Folly
Bring all your hope to nought.

The corruption of politics and the warlord Greed of Aidid, shall destroy all of America's hopes and dreams. The sloth of senators and the folly of Vietnamese, a victory it shall not return.

Take up the White Man's burden --
No tawdry rule of kings,
But toil of serf and sweeper --

Those who make Empire, are not Emperors or Kings, but soldiers and workers.

The tale of common things.
The ports ye shall not enter,
The roads ye shall not tread,

The American flag you shall not raise, the cities you shall not rend asunder, and the countries you shall not tread upon. All are limitations of the US Marines.

Take up the White man's burden --
And reap his old reward:
The blame of those ye better,
The hate of those ye guard --

Your allies will envy you, your enemies will hate you, and those you protect will come to regret your existence.

By all ye cry or whisper,
By all ye leave or do,
The silent, sullen peoples
Shall weigh your Gods and you.

Muslims will judge your weaknesses and your strengths, by all that you do and all that you say. Be you Strong Horse or weak, they shall tell.

Take up the White Man's burden --
Have done with childish days --
The lightly proffered laurel,
The easy, ungrudged praise.
Comes now, to search your manhood
Through all the thankless years,
Cold-edged with dear-bought wisdom,
The judgment of your peers!

Cast off the chains of adolescence, the sweet comfort of childish play. To all Americas, now is the time to excel, for now is the time to prove the greatness of our being. Take no solace in praise given profusely, take no solace in polls of approval or likeness.

Strike unto the unknown, and find the appraisal of your peers, for those are the only ones that shall matter when Iraq and America are judged in history's mind.

The nature of humanity has not changed since the time of Kipling. The socio-economic politics have not changed, the global politics of war, security, and resources have not changed, and neither have the problems of famine and life.

I just looked up and Neo wrote a comment, about Kipling's defense of imperialism being more nuanced. Funny, a coincidence.

There's not a lot of use to apologize for Kipling. Marxists may have something to apologize for, for using Marx's works to kill millions of people.

Neither human nature nor human behavior has changed. The dynamics of the world and the endless variables of action-reaction, have changed however. Same old problems, using new age technology.

As I see it, Kipling hits up the secret of national power. The secret of national power is the citizens of the nation. It is not the rulers, not the generals, not the pundits, and not the reporters. The strength and vitality of a nation are the men (and now women) who fight to uphold the traditions and the core values of their country.

The difference between America and Britain, is that we have no useless Kings. We are ruled by ourselves, and this focuses the power of the soldiers, the workmen, and the businessmen of America into something unrivaled in the history of the human race.

No nation would be capable or willing of providing free relief money and transport to the victims of the Tsunami in recent times. Neither in this timeline nor the past.

Generosity is not enough, if you are barely feeding your family.

Kipling was a man of his times. A lot of modern soldier values are in contrast to his day, where loot, loot, that's what made soldiers get up and shoot.

What Kiplingy did well with was duty. He clarified it and juxtaposed it with many situations and people. But sometimes duty is not enough, sometimes you need a better social system and a better government system. Britain did not have that, and now you see why Britain has problems. Better than France, of course, but that's not saying much.

What made Britain powerful in Colonial times is still true for America right now. The only question is, can we improve upon Imperialism as we improved upon the Republic of Rome and the Democracy of Athens? Can we draw in the good, once again into the breach, and deny the bad one more time in history's mind?

200 years into the future, and they shall judge us for what we did, and not what we said.

At 4:15 PM, April 06, 2006, Blogger neo-neocon said...

Ymarsakar: Kipling was indeed British. He was born in India because his parents were there as part of the British adventure in India (his father was teacher at an art school), but he was British to the core. He was sent back to England at the age of 6, and returned to India in his late teens, and spent approximately another decade there. Then he returned to England, where he lived the rest of his life except for the short spell in Vermont.

At 4:57 PM, April 06, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Twenty five years ago, fresh out of the army, I applied for a job at a bookstore. One of the few questions on the application was "Who is your favorite author?" I filled in Rudyard Kipling.

I never even got an interview.

At 5:36 PM, April 06, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

Ah, Okay. I knew he was born in Britain, and his name is a bit weird. The photos didn't show him as all that big either, from what I saw.

I did read he was taught the Indian language, or some such version, when he was in India however.

To update the theme then, since Britain could not draw in fresh blood, they ran out in the end. Because there should have been more Indians that were loyal to the British, if the British had succeded in presenting a culture that was worth adhering to. The Gurkhas, like the Kurds, seemed to have attached themselves to the British for some reason. Independent of culture.

At 5:36 PM, April 06, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

Born in India, not Britain.

At 8:17 PM, April 06, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I do like Kipling, I do.

His son's death may have weighed more heavily on him than would be expected--but how could that be?--because Jack's eyes were not up to Army standards and Kipling called in some favors to get his son commissioned.

If he'd kept his mouth shut.... But then, he may have thought that his son would have been shamed.

Kipling also wrote "The Witches of En-dor", a take on MacBeth's bad girls. In it, he warns against, by metaphor, the widespread practice of seancing and Ouija boards and other practices women were using to get in touch with their men after The Great War.

He knew grief and could identify with it, but could also warn against being possessed by it. Either the obsession was ruinous or Something might come Across. I haven't made up my mind which Kipling thought most likely.

We've had two funerals for young folks in our town recently. One kid choked on his vomit after a party. The other was killed in Iraq. If you had to choose which parent to be, which would you choose? Dead is dead, right? But you would still choose.

FWIW: Kipling had a fantastical children's history of England called Puck of Pook's Hill. I highly recommend it, although it presumes the children reading it would have at least some familiarity with English history to begin with. In one story, Una magics up Parnesius, a centurion from the Wall, by shouting bits of "Lays of Ancient Rome" into the wind one summer day. You may have to do some homework before you can read the stories to your kids.

One of Kipling's fans, Rosemary Sutcliff, fleshed out the history of England with a superb series of young adult novels ranging from the late Iron Age to the English Civil War. Terrific stories.

After his son was killed, Kipling wrote some harsh short stories, characterized as "hysterical" and full of anger at the Germans, which is legitimate. They invaded everybody they could find on a map, killed millions and wrecked European civilization. But most anthologies leave the stories out.

In this time, his "Obituaries of The Great War" will be interesting.

At 9:24 PM, April 06, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Epitaphs of The Great War"

I knew "obituaries" didn't scan right.


At 10:31 PM, April 06, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I dunno, B.

I've seen pictures of WW I-era guys.
Then came WW II.

Now so many Brits look like Mick Jagger and Ringo Starr.

I don't know if war is Darwinian selection for the toughest society, but it's reverse Darwinism for the people. Which will eventually tell.

At 12:25 AM, April 07, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kipling's place in the pantheon of English Litterature can be questioned, but his position as the most misunderstood figure in modern literature is irrefutable.

Take up the White Man's Burden reads like the theme song of the Peace Corps. Gunga Din and Fuzzy Wuzzy are paeans to black men at a time when racism against blacks was at its zenith.

One cause of this misunderstanding lies in Kipling's practice of extolling a popular belief in the opening stanzas before annihilating it in the finale, In East is East and West is West and Never the Twain Shall Meet Kipling spends a dozen stanzas confirming this popular belief before demolishing it in the final chorus:

"East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet. But there's no East nor West, border, breed nor birth, when two strong men meet face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth."

Therein lies Kipling's unpopularity with academics. He is not a racist, but he does not prize strong men who are not afraid to stand by their convictions even in the face of danger or public opprobrium.

At 2:36 AM, April 07, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Colonialism... a bad word to many, and certainly not without it's problems, but to those who like to try to insult the U.S. as the new imperial power, It's good to point out that the brightest spots for humanity in this age are former British colonies. Maybe Kipling wasn't all wrong on being proud of the Empire. Look at these United States, Australia, perhaps India. Ghandi certainly only was successful because he used civil disobedience against the U.K. and not someone like Stalin or Mao. and the U.K. was certainly a better influence on Canada than France. Even in the Middle East, better to be in a former British colonial area than French. South Africa was the worse for the Boers as well... Of course, one has to juxtapose that against the colonialism of Spain, and even worse, France and the Netherlands. They left some of the darkest holes instead.
As for his anti-semitism, well, frankly he seems a man of his times again- and let's be honest, it was all too common at the time. I hope those who follow Neo's link to that article read the following page as well... Kipling is more subtle than simply saying he was anti-semitic.

At 2:40 AM, April 07, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A further thought- Kipling was only about twenty years older than my grandfather, and I'm pretty sure my gramps thought less of blacks, and would likely not have fully approved of my father marrying an asian woman, but he raised a son who had total respect for his parents, and still found no barrier in an interracial marraige in an era when it would've still been illegal in some states... One must be careful to judge historical figures by todays standards.

At 6:34 AM, April 07, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

en revanche. Good points, although the white man's burden could include the Special Forces which, besides fighting, does some local versions of nation-building. Calle it, say, county-building.
Some of the shorts, Georgy-Porgy, or The Miracle of Purun Bhagat, put the Brits down--the former--or extol natives--the latter. However, it's individuals, not races who get the attention for worse or better.

douglas. I believe that. Why, if we can't judge laterally--which is to say other cultures today--say the cultural relativists, may we judge vertically, which is to say earlier cultures? Why aren't we just as culturally relative with regard to, ante-bellum US, which included slavery?

Well, we know the answer, but it's fun to ask the question in certain venues.

At 6:43 AM, April 07, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kipling was a wonderful writer, whose later short stories are among the best ever written. See "The Gardener", for one.

After WWI, Kipling and his wife headed the British "Graves Registration", finding and marking British graves in France and elsewhere. The irony is two-fold: people don't know he did this; second, he never found his own son.

At 7:10 AM, April 07, 2006, Blogger goesh said...

Keep up the good work - there is a vast army of video game players at the door, at times I hear them braying, many of whom with but slight provocation or mere whim would burn Kippling's books, and others....

At 7:26 AM, April 07, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Rewards and Fairies", the sequel to "Puck of Pook's Hill", has perhaps the finest portrayal of Elizabeth I - see "Gloriana".

Almost all texts are online.

At 9:29 AM, April 07, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anyone for a rousing chorus of "Jerusalem?"

At 9:34 AM, April 07, 2006, Blogger David Foster said...

There's a very interesting essay on Kipling by George Orwell: I believe the title is "The Best of the Bad Poets." (It's more positive than the title would suggest)

At 10:38 AM, April 09, 2006, Blogger Judith said...

Another Kipling fan here.

Peter Bellamy, one of the best of the English folk revival singers, from the same area of England as Kipling, set a lot of Kipling's poems to music, under the theory that they sound like lyrics to traditional songs, and Kipling did like to hang around with working-class people and describe their expertise (you can see this in most of the Puck stories and also Captains Courageous), so maybe Kipling was influenced by traditional songs he heard and may even have had particular melodies in mind.

Bellamy made 5-6 Kipling albums. He set ALL of the poems in "Puck of Pook's Hill" and "Rewards and Fairies," and most of the "Barrackroom Ballads." And others as well. They are all out of print, but you can hear some of the songs on a 3-CD retrospective of his work (he committed suicide about 15 years ago).

He was one of my favorite artists in my favorite genre, and what he did with Kipling is wonderful. Most of them are a capella, or with concertina, and some have harmony. His setting of "My Boy Jack" is on the CD - I bet you're intrigued now!

At 11:04 AM, April 09, 2006, Blogger Judith said...

PS and I forgot that Bellamy was something of a maverick on the English folk scene in that he wasn't an automatic leftist. He played his political cards close to his chest, but was assumed to be "rightwing" because he wasn't loudly leftwing, and because he unabashedly loved Kipling, which was not a PC thing to do.

But he was very respected musically, so he changed some minds. Which segues into the main theme of your blog!

That link has some sound clips from the CD, so if you have Real Player you can listen to them.

At 1:56 PM, October 30, 2007, Blogger Unknown said...

The Society for Creative Anachronism is filled with people who love Kipling. And some of them are pretty good about it. Here's a song (based upon SCA history) which does a rather good job of explaining the problems of having a distant overlord:

Causes of Rebellion

Words: Astra of the Grey Shadows (c) 1974 Ann Cass

Tune: Retreat along the Wabash (Martha Keller/Juanita Coulson)

Source: Wurm Wald Post-Revel Songbook

Tell the truth to a lord you trust,
More truth to a lord you hate.
Lie to a lady, if lie you must,
But since the nobles sit far away,
And will not heed what the people say,
Lie, lie, lie to the Council, lie to the Lords of State.

Where the low hills sit by the foggy bay,
And the ground all shakes with fire,
The high lords sit in council today,
Let them consider the price they pay,
For calling a man a liar.

With title goes a certain power,
And a much more certain schooling.
A child may play in a castle tower,
But a lord who does will see the hour
He hasn't a land worth ruling.

For there isn't a man but has his doubt
Of the worth of them that rule him,
But the good ones he will not turn out,
Unless he finds he's pushed about,
Or he thinks they're trying to fool him.

There's many a man in the lands of the East,
And a few in the West and the Middle,
Who hold a lord sits last to feast,
Thinks first of his men, their lands, their beasts,
And then of his pride a little.

Now what a man says and what a man writes
Are ruled by law and reason.
But half the cause of all our fights
Is that one man calls his Natural Rights
And another man calls treason.

Take care, all ye who sit in state,
Take care when you come to judge,
The cost of a word in anger is great,
But higher still in lasting hate
Is the cost of holding a grudge.

So tell the truth to a lord you trust,
More truth to a lord you hate.
Lie to a lady, if lie you must,
But since the nobles sit far away,
And will not heed what the people say,
Lie, lie, lie to the Council, lie to the Lords of State.

"Blanket permission to reproduce is freely granted (but if you use it in an album, I want a copy) - Astra of the Grey Shadows"

At 2:55 PM, April 25, 2008, Blogger captned said...

When discussing PC behavior and the britsh empire one should not forget the discraceful performance of Time Magazine whe it refused to name Winston S. Churchill as it's man of the century due to his long past refusal to grant independence to India!

Shame on them!


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