Saturday 12 June 2010

a bit of Kipling

"Mr Kipling's gorn and written us a poem!"

There was a donkeyman on a ferry I used to work on, who got very enthusiastic when he saw my volume of the Collected Poems of Kipling, and borrowed it forthwith. And, in gratitude, he graciously presented me with a bottle of J-Lo perfume. It was a touching moment. I'm pretty sure he'd nicked it from the Duty Free shop. And it smelled like toilet cleaner. But the thought was there, and a v noble thought it was too. Kipling would, I feel sure, have approved.

There's lots of people in far-flung places, reading or reciting Kipling for pleasure, even now. Which is probably how things should be.

Back in the day, though, his poetry enjoyed a success probably undreamed-of by a modern poet. His Absent-Minded Beggar, written to raise funds for the families of soldiers fighting in the Boer War, raised between £250,000 and £300,000 (equivalent to £14-17 million today). As John Lee puts it, 'it has claims to have been the most practically effective poem in English.'

And on Saturday 19th June, in Bristol, there will be a Study Day, 'Following The Absent-Minded Beggar', which proposes to look at the hows and whys of it all. Be there!


  1. That sounds really interesting, pity I'm so far away.

    I like Kipling most of the time, but I read a quote somewhere the other day about "taking your gun and blowing your brains out like a man", not the exact words. No doubt you or one of your learned readers will know which poem it comes from.

    He took it upo, himself to visit the war graves in France after WWI and report home.

  2. A man of his time. And none the worse for all that.

  3. A fascinating man. 'If' remains one of the big Top Five poems ever written I think. Though a bit of cliche now, it contains an insight that's still immensely affecting - particularly as you go through the ups and downs of life.

    And yet his journey from jingoistic Empire propagandist to broken father, after the death of his son in the First World War, is one of the most powerful parts of his story of all?

  4. It was 'The Young British Soldier', Anji, a description of the various ways that a recruit could come to a sticky end. Yes, I think he was very powerfully affected by the deaths of the war, not least that of his son whom he had encouraged to join up...

    Indeed, Graham...

    I think there were worse and less clear-sighted views of Empire than Kipling's, Jo; I don't think he was at all jingoistic...

  5. I was reading tonight of Kipling getting his son a commission after he was refused for his eyesight; his grief and becoming involved with the graves commission that laid out and maintained the burial grounds for those who didn't make it home.

    "If any question why we died/ Tell them, because our fathers lied."

    So many lives, still affected by a war from almost 100 years ago.

    Would that we had learned from any of it!