The Poetry of Rudyard Kipling

I’ve always liked Rudyard Kipling’s poetry, ever since I read The Way Through The Woods in English literature classes when I was about 15.  If still remains my favourite poem from any poet for its ability to express the values which are essential to success in many areas of life in a way which reads beautifully. 

I particularly like his Barrack Room Ballads, especially the way in which they are evidently very old fashioned, but still make a powerful point relevant to the modern world.  Who could plausibly claim that modern day Tommy is treated much differently to Kipling’s creation?  And with the British army back in Afghanistan well over a century after Kipling wrote the Young British Soldier, his words seem rather ominous in today’s context:

When you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s plains,
And the women come out to cut up what remains,
Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
An’ go to your Gawd like a soldier.

I’m sure many people before have commented on the modern-day relevancy of these two Barrack Room Ballads, and I’m hardly saying anything new in doing so myself.  But maybe I am the first to say that another poem in the collection, The Ladies, is strangely relevant to workers in the oil industry.  Or maybe I’m just looking for an excuse to post a rather cheerful and amusing poem which probably would not find a publisher were it written today.

I’ve taken my fun where I’ve found it;
  I’ve rouged an’ I’ve ranged in my time;
I’ve ‘ad my pickin’ o’ sweethearts,
  An’ four o’ the lot was prime.
One was an ‘arf-caste widow,
  One was a woman at Prome,
One was the wife of a jemadar-sais
  An’ one is a girl at ‘ome.

Now I aren’t no ‘and with the ladies,
  For, takin’ ‘em all along,
You never can say till you’ve tried ‘em,
  An’ then you are like to be wrong.
There’s times when you’ll think that you mightn’t,
  There’s times when you’ll know that you might;
But the things you will learn from the Yellow an’ Brown,
  They’ll ‘elp you a lot with the White!

I was a young un at ‘Oogli,
  Shy as a girl to begin;
Aggie de Castrer she made me,
  An’ Aggie was clever as sin;
Older than me, but my first un –
  More like a mother she were –
Showed me the way to promotion an’ pay,
  An’ I learned about women from ‘er!

Then I was ordered to Burma,
  Actin’ in charge o’ Bazar,
An’ I got me a tiddy live ‘eathen
  Through buyin’ supplies off ‘er pa.
Funny an’ yellow an’ faithful –
  Doll in a teacup she were –
But we lived on the square, like a true-married pair,
  An’ I learned about women from ‘er!

Then we was shifted to Neemuch
  (Or I might ha’ been keepin’ ‘er now),
An’ I took with a shiny she-devil,
  The wife of a nigger at Mhow;
‘Taught me the gipsy-folks’ bolee;
  Kind o’ volcano she were,
For she knifed me one night ’cause I wished she was white,
  And I learned about women from ‘er!

Then I come ‘ome in a trooper,
  ‘Long of a kid o’ sixteen –
‘Girl from a convent at Meerut,
   The straightest I ever ‘ave seen.
Love at first sight was ‘er trouble,
  She didn’t know what it were;
An’ I wouldn’t do such, ’cause I liked ‘er too much,
  But — I learned about women from ‘er!

I’ve taken my fun where I’ve found it,
  An’ now I must pay for my fun,
For the more you ‘ave known o’ the others
  The less will you settle to one;
An’ the end of it’s sittin’ and thinking’,
  An’ dreamin’ Hell-fires to see;
So be warned by my lot (which I know you will not),
  An’ learn about women from me!

What did the Colonel’s Lady think?
  Nobody never knew.
Somebody asked the Sergeant’s Wife,
  An’ she told ‘em true!
When you get to a man in the case,
  They’re like as a row of pins –
For the Colonel’s Lady an’ Judy O’Grady
  Are sisters under their skins!

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7 Responses to The Poetry of Rudyard Kipling

  1. Tatyana says:

    Gaito Gazdanov, in one of his novels about the Russian Civil War, describes one of his comrades (on the “White Volunteer” side), serving on the samebronepoezd. The guy (whmo he calls a cad) was spinning the same long story about his poor wife and children who can’t wait to see him home; only geographical location and names of his family would change. Confronted by other soldiers, he explained with barbarian frankness – but I’m a railroad conductor by trade, we have a wife on every station along the route!

  2. Tim Newman says:

    I guess having a wife in every station is the Russian equivalent to the Royal Navy sailors having a wife in every port.

    In a similar vein, this is a childrens’ song we used to sing when we were 5 years old in school. Only years later did I realise what it meant, and the implications of the last line.

  3. Tatyana says:

    What a lovely song!
    I’m sure, no such frivolity will be allowed in American public school/kindergarten.

    Still, it’s a 100 times better than to sing in organized choir rows ? ????? ????? ???????
    ? ???? ??????? ???????!
    , as we were made in my elementary school.

  4. Tim Newman says:

    Jesus. Nothing like political brainwashing at an early age, eh?

  5. Tatyana says:

    Oh sweet childhood memories!

  6. Larry Barrow says:

    Kipling, “IF” The poem that got me thru a rough adolescence. This framed poem has hung in my home for over 30 years. Written in a time when sacrifice and honor ruled the British Empire. A time when it was no shame to expect a man to live and die like a man.
    I was 13 and attending school in Pennsylvania. I was failing English, so my teacher suggested if I could memorize “IF” and recite it in a satisfactory manner in front of the class, she would give me a passing grade for the semester.
    It was the first of many Kipling readings. As you know, “Tommy” is my favorite, and should be the favorite of anyone who ever wore a uniform. “Tommy” says it all about soldiering. Who do we have to compare to Rudyard Kipling today?

  7. W. Shedd says:

    I’m probably too typically American in first admiring e. e. cummings and Robert Frost.

    You know, we engineers aren’t supposed to be reading this stuff.

    I can’t hear the name Kipling without thinking of the old joke:

    “Do you like Kipling?”
    “I don’t know, I’ve never kippled!”

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