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Me And Rud

Feb. 15th, 2005 10:16 am
poliphilo: (Default)

I have a personal link with Rudyard Kipling.

During WWI my grandmother- not the one I've posted pictures of but my mother's mother, who hated having her picture taken- was enrolled in the Women's Land Army. The Women's Land Army existed to fill the jobs vacated by male workers, mainly agricultural workers, who had gone off to fight. She was offered a posting to Kipling's farm at Burwash in Sussex. "Don't take it," she was warned, "Mrs Kipling is a tartar," but my Grandmother was a big fan and she went.

So far as I know she had an easy ride and I don't think she had much contact with the Kipling family, or if she did, it wasn't the stuff of anecdotes.

But one thing she did do was get Kipling to sign one of his books for her. A modern author would have put an inscription, "To Mary Allen, with respect and affection" or something like that. Kipling just crossed through his printed name and signed beneath it. I'm told he was chary about handing out autographs and that Carrie Kipling signed all the cheques to stop them being bought and sold by autograph hunters.

Kipling was a god in my mother's family. Not as big a god as Winston Churchill but not far behind. I was introduced to the Just So Stories and the Jungle Books and after that I was hooked and could find my own way.  There are many writers I admire and a handful I love and Kipling is at the head of the second list. I enjoy everything he did, from the children's stories to the "difficult" quasi-modernist stories of his old age.  When I grew up I collected Kipling first editions. Back then Kipling was as far out of favour as it's possible for a major writer to be and they could be had for a few shillings each.

When I was about twelve my Grandmother said she'd give me the signed copy of The Seven Seas provided I learned several verses of Kipling's poem "Sussex" by heart. No sweat.

God gave all men all earth to love
But since our hearts are small
Ordained to each one spot should prove
Beloved over all;
That as he watched creation's birth,
So we in godlike mood
Might of our love create our earth
And see that it was good."






Yup, I still know it.

Thanks, Granny.

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A friend is putting together an anthology of poems for school kids. She wants to include some of those good old Victorian recitation pieces- things like the Charge of the Light Brigade and Barbara Freitchie- because they're fun. I've been trying to sell her on Kipling's Barrack Room Ballads, but I don't think she's buying.

Kipling was just about the first English poet to write in something like a working class voice. Maybe W.E. Henley got there first, but Henley is almost forgotten and Kipling ain't. The BRBs are laced with primary emotions and black humour. There's subtlety and sub-text too. Orwell wrestled with their appeal and decided that verses with dropped "aitches" and music hall rhythms couldn't be good poetry so he invented a category of "good bad poetry" to slot them into. Snob!

Here's one of my favourites. I reckon it's a great poem, pure and simple.

"Mary, Pity Women!"

You call yourself a man,
For all you used to swear,
An' leave me, as you can,
My certain shame to bear?
I 'ear! You do not care --
You done the worst you know.
I 'ate you, grinnin' there. . . .
Ah, Gawd, I love you so!

Nice while it lasted, an' now it is over --
Tear out your 'eart an' good-bye to your lover!
What's the use o' grievin', when the mother that bore you
(Mary, pity women!) knew it all before you?

It aren't no false alarm,
The finish to your fun;
You -- you 'ave brung the 'arm,
An' I'm the ruined one;
An' now you'll off an' run
With some new fool in tow.
Your 'eart? You 'aven't none. . . .
Ah, Gawd, I love you so!

When a man is tired there is naught will bind 'im;
All 'e solemn promised 'e will shove be'ind 'im.
What's the good o' prayin' for The Wrath to strike 'im
(Mary, pity women!), when the rest are like 'im?

What 'ope for me or -- it?
What's left for us to do?
I've walked with men a bit,
But this -- but this is you.
So 'elp me Christ, it's true!
Where can I 'ide or go?
You coward through and through! . . .
Ah, Gawd, I love you so!

All the more you give 'em the less are they for givin' --
Love lies dead, an' you cannot kiss 'im livin'.
Down the road 'e led you there is no returnin'
(Mary, pity women!), but you're late in learnin'!

You'd like to treat me fair?
You can't, because we're pore?
We'd starve? What do I care!
We might, but ~this~ is shore!
I want the name -- no more --
The name, an' lines to show,
An' not to be an 'ore. . . .
Ah, Gawd, I love you so!

What's the good o' pleadin', when the mother that bore you
(Mary, pity women!) knew it all before you?
Sleep on 'is promises an' wake to your sorrow
(Mary, pity women!), for we sail to-morrow!

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