August 6, 2014

Kipling: Not Poetry but Prophecy

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!

Posted by gerardvanderleun at August 6, 2014 10:48 PM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

I still remember how dismissive my intellectual "betters" were of Kipling ("Not a poet; a rhymester at best..") But I have found that this poem and "If" have more than carried the water over the years as guides for living and negotiating the world around me. Their profound wisdom deepens and shines like fine gold.

Posted by: Ralph Kinney Bennett at August 7, 2014 5:37 AM

The last sixty years were a respite. An abnormal respite.

The break from natural law and human history is over. Evolution is now bringing nature's perils, in microbial form, back to normal. The crumbling of Pax Americana under international socialism and the viral spread of Islam is doing the rest.

Stock up on your 19th-century authors, and the rest of the Dead White Males from before World War II. The wisdom they had to offer from personal experience will be much needed for surviving the return of normality.

Posted by: Richard Lund at August 7, 2014 10:09 AM

People of Faith have a logical idea of what Life is all about.

Truth endures.

The water flows, the rocks remain.

Posted by: chasmatic at August 8, 2014 4:54 AM

That's poetic Chas. If you like this, try a little of The Female of the Species. It is truer now than it ever was. Or as Masefield observed,

The corn is sown again, it grows;
The stars burn out, the darkness goes;
The rhythms change, they do not close.

They change, and we, who pass like foam,
Like dust blown through the streets of Rome,
Change ever, too; we have no home,

Only a beauty, only a power,
Sad in the fruit, bright in the flower,
Endlessly erring for its hour,

Posted by: Casca at August 8, 2014 8:53 AM

@Casca - thanks. Yes I am familiar with Kipling. I like his poetry.

Posted by: chasmatic at August 8, 2014 9:05 PM