Thursday, April 10, 2008

Kipling's return ...

Last week I saw more than a few links to Roger Kimball's article in The New Criterion, Rudyard Kipling Unburdened. He isn't talking to the demi-troll, once banned and back now and then that posts here - no, he is talking to an author that never left my top-shelf. You might have figured that out with all the Hopkirk I keep re-reading. The crux of Kimball's argument is that over the last century or so - Kipling's critics have become almost stuck as actors in a Kabuki dance. With the fading fog of Imperial Guilt - Kipling is, simply, a giant;
A good deal of intelligent commentary on Kipling operates like this. Irving Howe, for example, in his introduction to the Viking Portable Kipling, begins with the obligatory condemnation of Kipling the “tub-thumper” for imperialism, etc., but then proceeds to find numerous things to praise. His denouement is the conclusion that Kipling was “a brilliant if unacknowledged fellow traveller of literary modernism.”

This strikes me as completely wrong. Kipling was in a different game altogether. Yes, he was sui generis, but only in the way—or rather, to the extent—that Eliot himself or other “strong voice” poets (Wallace Stevens, for example) are sui generis. You can’t imagine Kipling beginning a long poem with the observation that “April is the cruellest month” (to say nothing of “Complacencies of the peignoir”). But then you can’t imagine Eliot or Stevens writing “Now this is the Law of the Jungle—as old and as true as the sky;/ And the Wolf that shall keep it may prosper, but the Wolf that shall break it must die.” Which is better, more important, more serious?

I am not sure those are answerable questions. But if Auden is correct in defining poetry as “memorable speech,” what Kipling wrote is surely poetry.
Read the whole thing. Kipling is a giant, always will be. Just because he wrote like he had a pair is no reason to smear him with post-modern gobbly-gook. BEHOLD!
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 impostors 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 worn-out 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 breathe 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!
Want to know who is the guy in the upper right hand corner? Click here. A Kipling Man if there ever was one.

No, the nay-sayers are wrong. Kipling is a giant, and deserves the credit lesser men never gave him.
If you are, like me, a Kipling fan - and you know the story of his son, you may be interested in this.

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