I’ve never done this before, and I’ll probably never do this again, but I’m going to share a poem with you. I’ve never been much of a poetry fan. I don’t know why but it just never seems to speak to me as it should. I kind of prefer people to tell it straight. This one poem is the exception.

It was written by Rudyard Kipling. Like generations of children, I was enthralled by The Jungle Book (and the movie of the same name) and other children’s tales he wrote. Later, I was amazed by the story of his incredible, yet tragic life (he was reputed to have politely declined both a knighthood and the title of Britain’s Poet Laureate).

It wasn’t until far more recently however that I came across this poem, quite by accident. I can’t understand why it isn’t much more famous (the conspiracist in me is however, deeply suspicious).

I found it so inspiring that I printed it out and taped it on to the wall in the smoko room next to where I sat for lunch. As I was writing my book on the computer I would often stop and read it through.

No matter how many times I read it, I can’t get to the end without breaking out in goose bumps.

The poem is about what Kipling calls “the Gods of the Copybook Headings.” In nineteenth and early twentieth century England, school children were issued with “copybooks.” These were like exercise books but each page had a heading. The children were required to copy the headings underneath to practise their writing skills (you may have heard the expression “blotting your copybook”).

The headings were based on Old Testament proverbs and Ten Commandments type morality; basic concepts such as truth, honesty, and fair dealing. Some of these are enshrined in the poem itself.

Kipling compared these to the kind of flim flam, feel good ideas spouted by charlatans in the market place. He was referring to ideas such as tolerance, social justice (how is that different to ordinary justice?) and re-distribution of wealth, which today we might call “progressivism.”

In this poem, Kipling foresaw the decline of the empire. Somehow, I think it is every bit as relevant today as it was when Kipling wrote it.

The Gods of the Copybook Headings

As I pass through my incarnations in every age and race, I make my proper prostrations to the Gods of the Market Place. Peering through reverent fingers I watch them flourish and fall, And the Gods of the Copybook Headings, I notice, outlast them all.

We were living in trees when they met us. They showed us each in turn that Water would certainly wet us, as Fire would certainly burn: But we found them lacking in Uplift, Vision and Breadth of Mind, So we left them to teach the Gorillas while we followed the March of Mankind.

We moved as the Spirit listed. They never altered their pace, Being neither cloud nor wind-borne like the Gods of the Market Place; But they always caught up with our progress, and presently word would come that a tribe had been wiped off its icefield, or the lights had gone out in Rome.

With the Hopes that our World is built on they were utterly out of touch, they denied that the Moon was Stilton; they denied she was even Dutch; They denied that Wishes were Horses; they denied that a Pig had Wings; So we worshipped the Gods of the Market Who promised these beautiful things.

When the Cambrian measures were forming, They promised perpetual peace. They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease. But when we disarmed, they sold us and delivered us bound to our foe, And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “Stick to the Devil you know”.

On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promised the Fuller Life (Which started by loving our neighbour and ended by loving his wife) Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith, And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “The Wages of Sin is Death”.

In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all, By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul; But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy, And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “If you don’t work you die”.

Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four — And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more.

******************************

As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man —There are only four things certain since Social Progress began: — That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire, And the burnt Fool’s bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;

And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins, As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn, The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!

42
Leave a Reply

Please Login to comment
25 Comment threads
17 Thread replies
0 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
26 Comment authors
OrangPutihemkayrumpole36-sailor-GailLouise Recent comment authors
  Subscribe  
Notify of
emkay
Member
emkay

makes more sense now, thanks

rumpole36
Member
rumpole36

That sounds like the usual misinformation that comes from the Democrat/Labor, socialist left. Please explain how it only applies to republications and not to Democrats who always say one thing and mean something different. After all what have the Democrats given their country? The Clintons and Obama? Are they people to be proud of? Australia is America in reverse so far as legislation goes. The Republicans are obstructing Democrat legislation in the same manner that Labor is obstructing Lib/Nat legislation.

-sailor-
Member
-sailor-

I have always thought of history as a sort of endless tape that repeats its self over & over. Re reading Kipling here has change that view to history being a sort of endless chess game that watchers like the Kipling’s of the world read the moves & warn of the outcome. Readers are not confined to the august like Kipling old & young men & women, babies & sages all in their time, warn & foretell, we or the like of we, for the most part ignore them.

rumpole36
Member
rumpole36

Too long to read Rinaldo.

Jerrapin
Member
Jerrapin

A good quote I read recently was “Back in 1914-1918, a safe space for 18-22 year olds was called a trench”

bangkav
Guest
bangkav

(cont) The men of my own stock,
Bitter bad they may be,
But, at least, they hear the things I hear,
And see the things I see;
And whatever I think of them and their likes
They think of the likes of me.

This was my father’s belief
And this is also mine:
Let the corn be all one sheaf–
And the grapes be all one vine,
Ere our children’s teeth are set on edge
By bitter bread and wine.

bangkav
Guest
bangkav

http://www.poetryloverspage.com\poets\kipling\kipling_ind.html Complete Poetry works of RK on this site, including the Politically Incorrect ones such as this: The Stranger The Stranger within my gate, He may be true or kind, But he does not talk my talk– I cannot feel his mind. I see the face and the eyes and the mouth, But not the soul behind. The men of my own stock, They may do ill or well, But they tell the lies I am wanted to, They are used to the lies I tell; And we do not need interpreters When we go to buy or sell. The… Read more »

igiveup
Member
igiveup

The only thing you can really count on is Human greed and selfishness, it’s called Human Nature. It’s what turns socialism into a joke, no one wants to give more than they receive, the worst thing about a socialist is they actually lie to themselves.

MagillaGorilla
Guest
MagillaGorilla

Go the Don !

GailLouise
Member
GailLouise

thanks for that Disraeli, it filled in some gaps

MichelLasouris
Member
MichelLasouris

With the Hopes that our World is built on they were utterly out of touch, they denied that the Moon was Stilton; they denied she was even Dutch; They denied that Wishes were Horses; they denied that a Pig had Wings; So we worshipped the Gods of the Market Who promised these beautiful things.” Harry I’m compelled to learn more;thank you for bringing this to my attention. One question though, the allusion to the Dutch lady? That lost me a bit.,

Minkers
Member
Minkers

Thank you, Harry.

OzzieVoter
Member
OzzieVoter

As Groucho Marx once said (referring to Shelley) ‘They don’t write that stuff any more’.

twentytwenty
Member
twentytwenty

A dose of the classics never hurt anybody. Thank you Harry.

disgusted1
Member
disgusted1
Daveinoz
Member
Daveinoz

” When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins, ”

We’ve arrived ….

Observer-GC
Member
Observer-GC

That is rather good. I take from that ‘we should learn from history or to put it another way, once bitten twice shy. Of course politicians are too stupid to make the connection and are destined to repeat, repeat, repeat and repeat the mistakes of the past. Some are too stupid to have learnt a lesson from the past cue SHY.

GregDeane
Member
GregDeane

It sounds like Kipling knew the United Nations was coming, and all the different forms of the Labor Party. But back then you were lucky to live to be old enough to get an old age pension.

GlemSnotbrook
Member
GlemSnotbrook

The Dalai Lama, in his own way, appears to be of the same opinion: https://themuslimissue.wordpress.com/2016/06/01/dalai-lama-germany-cannot-become-an-arab-country/

GailLouise
Member
GailLouise

Kind of defeatist, Harry……Socialism prevails despite the attempts to venture away as an individual but socialism destroys the individual …..a reminder of the need to sacrifice all for principle because quality of life triumphs over quantity of years/comfort. Thank you for this piece. Seems prescient because of its contextual absence.

rosa16
Member
rosa16

Many thanks Harry, I’d never read it

ThePouch
Guest
ThePouch

Bit scary Harry yet prophetic. Is our foolish life so predictable or is history set to repeat once again.

mrgg@bigpond
Member
mrgg@bigpond

Visionary, Insightful, Poetic and therefore, brilliant !? Maybe too high brow intelligence for many of the PP posters?

Audioslavic
Member
Audioslavic

I like it…………..but woe is us!

Carlos
Member
Carlos

BLOODY BEAUTY!! OUR ELDERS CAN BE OUR TEACHERS, IF ONLY WE ARE WILLING TO LEARN, BUT NOWADAYS ELDERS ARE FORGOTTEN AND THEIR WISDOM SET ON FIRE TO BURN.