Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Remembering English Poets- Kipling

I have been re-reading Kipling's biographical information in advance of this post. My goodness, what a life of travel and intrigue! Kipling was very English, but more a man of the world as he experienced a myriad of cultures and lived in exotic places around the globe, including time in the United States.

I am inspired to read a biography of Kipling based on this general survey and he seems controversial, complex, but admirable on many fronts. We tend to forget that he also wrote the famous Junglebook characters as well.

When I read Kipling, I always end up with the more famous of his writings, "If-" , a wonderful poem known by almost any casual reader but I actually spend more time on his poem, "Recessional", which was published for Queen Victoria's diamond jubilee. Both poems contain mighty messages of character. If-, the standard call to persevere and Recessional, the epic warning against pride and a constant need to be humble before God.

Let's start with Recessional- 1897

I was recently reminded of this poem when we got to see parts of Queen Elizabeth's royal "Platinum Jubilee' celebrations this past summer. The pomp and cheer of these types of moments are enjoyable, but also can spur traits of humanity that can be seeds of sin as well. Kipling captures this well in the bravado of English pride at the end of the 19th century.

The title itself is ironic... Kipling says "no, this isn't our peak.... if we continue in pride without a reliance or acknowledgment of God... this is our recession!"

God of our fathers, known of old,
Lord of our far-flung battle-line,
Beneath whose awful Hand we hold
Dominion over palm and pine—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

The line, 'dominion over palm and pine' is a reference to how vast the British empire was at this time in history. The English rule encompassed the globe and was made even more famous by the phrase, "the sun never sets on the British Empire."

We also get here the refrain,  "Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,- Lest we forget—lest we forget!" quoted over and over. It stands as a prayer and call for national repentance and God's mercy.

The tumult and the shouting dies;
The Captains and the Kings depart:
Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
An humble and a contrite heart.

Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

A clear allusion to Psalm 51- the Psalm of repentance by David in which he readily admits:

[16] For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
[17] The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Psalm 51:16–17 ESV)

Far-called, our navies melt away;
On dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!

Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

Kipling predicts the retreat of English power in the wake of this pompous pride and with a common sense reality that no empire can maintain power when stretched so thin. And we have another Biblical allusion to powerful nations that fell under God's judgment.

If, drunk with sight of power, we loose
Wild tongues
that have not Thee in awe,
Such boastings as the Gentiles use,
Or lesser breeds without the Law—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

This stanza always comes to mind during football seasons where we get on win streaks. It doesn't take long for teams and fans to turn to boasting with 'wild tongues' as we get intoxicated on power. It is SO natural. One year in Nashville, my team went on a 7 game win streak and my coaches were shocked when I read this poem to them at our coaches devotion. But to a man, they agreed, that we had become to high on ourselves and that is a dangerous place to be.. you stop working and start 'resting on your laurels'... don't get me wrong- we need to enjoy times of success...but BE CAREFUL! But the grandiose things we say when we are in the zone can get pretty obnoxious!

For heathen heart that puts her trust
In reeking tube and iron shard,

All valiant dust that builds on dust,
And guarding, calls not Thee to guard,
For frantic boast and foolish word—
Thy mercy on Thy People, Lord!

Where do we put our trust? Those without God in mind, put their trust in "reeking tube" or the power of the cannon. The iron shard is likely the shrapnel of war, but the point is clear... do we trust military might?, global power?, financial security?, technology?... or do we find a humble trust in God? Everything else is 'dust built on dust'.

I guess you can see why I like this poem even more than IF

For the sake of this post to Kipling, I am posting IF- - it is such a good and clear needs no analysis.. just enjoy. This may sound weird, but the Lynyrd Skynyrd song, Simple Man, always pops in my head after I read IF... and then the song Mama Tried by Merle Haggard, because I seem to fall short of these ideals- LOL

IF- by Rudyard Kipling (1895)

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!

I think I'm only going to do 1 more post right toward the end of the month on T.S. Eliot which means I'm passing by Yeats and a few others. If you have been enjoying these or ever have a series or post you would like for me to do- let me know. I also entertain guest blog posts at times. Take care!

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