Rudyard Kipling: Poems

Rudyard Kipling: Poems Essay Questions

  1. 1

    What are Kipling’s views on Empire as revealed by his poems?

    Kipling had complicated views on empire. On the one hand, he certainly believed Britain had a right and an obligation to go abroad to the lands of the poor heathens and bring Britain's superior economic, political, and cultural offerings to them. He was strongly impacted by his time in British India and waxed poetic about it in his verse and short stories. He esteemed Britain's military and saw war as a noble endeavor. However, he also knew that building and maintaining an empire was no easy feat and that men who sought to engage in this activity were in for many vexatious situations. They would not always find the glory they expected, and may be derailed due to their own failings and/or by the difficulties of the job. They would have to face the hostility of the "new-caught, sullen peoples, / Half-devil and half-child" ("White Man's Burden"). They would face setbacks and despair. And, ultimately, they would have to come to terms with the fact that empire is ephemeral. Clearly, Kipling's views are rather ambivalent.

  2. 2

    How personal are Kipling’s poems?

    While most Victorian poets did not delve into their personal lives for their poetry, Kipling’s poems have an even more pronounced lack of intimacy or individuality. They are about grand subjects like war and empire, not about his relationships or deepest thoughts. However, looking beyond the surface may yield insights about the man, even if they are rather obvious or superficial. It is clear that Kipling is proud of his country and its empire-building abroad, and believes in Britain’s might and supremacy, but he also was wary of its overreaching tendency. He felt war was justified but evinces extreme compassion for the soldiers who fight in it. This may be derived from the death of his own son in war; some of his feelings on this can be discerned in “My Boy Jack”. He values deep and meaningful relationships among men; friendship is paramount for him, as illustrated by his paean to Masonic brotherhood, "The Mother-Lodge". He is clearly rectitudinous and stoic, and “If-” provides a succinct description of the traits he found ideal in himself and others. A bit of his sense of humor and playfulness comes across in some poems, but overall he is revealed as a smart, even-keeled, and compassionate man as well as a product of his era in his possession of some degree of racism, misogyny, and notion of Western cultural supremacy.

  3. 3

    Do Kipling's poems reveal anything about his attitudes toward women?

    There are few poems that specifically mention women, especially among the poems collected for this study guide. Their omission as characters/subjects offers some insight into Kipling's blithe assumptions that women were not capable of the same grand acts or noble gestures as men were. Not allowed to be soldiers, statesmen, or captains of industry, women faded into the background, where, according to Victorian mores and beliefs, was where they belonged in the first place. One rare female character is the Burmese girl in "Mandalay", a mere object of lust and beguilement for the nostalgic soldier. The grieving parent in "My Boy Jack" may be a mother, but it is likely that it is a father, as the poem is probably modeled after Kipling's own loss of his son. Although it is not fair to claim that Kipling was an outright misogynist, he shared his countrymen's ideas about women and clearly found them as unsuitable topics for poems. Veterans, Freemasons, young recruits, warriors, and kings are found in his verse, but no women.

  4. 4

    What does Kipling’s use of the vernacular in many of his Barrack-Room Ballads accomplish?

    Unlike “Recessional” or “Ulster” or “When Earth’s Last Picture is Painted”, Kipling’s prose in the poems from Barrack-Room Ballads are written in a blunt vernacular, close to a Cockney dialect. It is earthy and slangy, and difficult for modern readers to read and utter aloud. Kipling chose to write like this for a very specific reason: he wanted to actually talk like the soldiers he was claiming to understand and write about. It was important for him to write and think like a “Tommy”, to mimic the lower class, uneducated manner of speaking the soldiers used. This form of language brings the soldiers in “Tommy”, “Gentlemen-Rankers”, and “Danny Deever” to life. They are real young men, brave but frightened by the horrors of war, trying to articulate their deep emotions and perceptions. If Kipling had stuck to his traditional Victorian style of verse, he would not have been able to as accurately convey the interior lives of these young men.

  5. 5

    How does Kipling depict the various natives/Eastern peoples in his poems?

    Kipling has complicated views of the natives he writes about in poems like “Gunga Din”, “Mandalay”, “The Ballad of East and West”, “The White Man’s Burden”, and “Fuzzy-Wuzzy”. On the one hand, he possesses the Victorian beliefs of racial and cultural superiority to those who dwell in Eastern states. His descriptions of the Fuzzy-Wuzzies is cringe-inducing, and “The White Man’s Burden” might just currently be one of the most loathed poems in the English language for its arrogant advocacy of colonizing dark, sullen races. However, in “Gunga Din” and “Ballad” in particular, the poem’s speaker expresses admiration and respect for those who are different than him. Kamal is just as noble, if not more so, than the Colonel’s son. Gunga Din loses his life to save the soldier’s. The Fuzzy-Wuzzies are, in fact, incredible fighters that the speaker considers an honor to have engaged with. Overall, certain conclusions about Kipling can be made in regards to his imperialistic sentiments, but he is also much more open-minded than most critics and readers give him credit for.

  6. 6

    What do Kipling’s poems reveal about his beliefs in God, if any?

    Unlike many Victorians, Kipling was not particularly religious. He understood the importance of the tenets of religious faith and the value of the tradition and history of Christianity; he also upheld most of the moral ideas of that faith. However, he did not experience religion on a personal level and was much more tolerant of other religions than others of his era. In “Recessional” the invocation of God seems more of a convenient way to remind empire builders to be pragmatic and prudent than a true expression of religious belief. In “the Mother-Lodge” one of the reasons why Kipling waxes poetic about it is the free conversation between men regarding their religions.

  7. 7

    What does Kipling suggest about friendship?

    Kipling believed that friendship between men was of crucial importance. A true friend can encourage and motivate as well as provide an outlet for venting frustration or despair. Friendship between men of equally-matched character and intelligence is a deep and meaningful experience that transcends all other markers of identity (see "Ballad"). A real friendship allows a man to forget his enemies, his toils, his fears, and concentrate on becoming the best version of himself. Friendship is especially important in situations fraught with peril or confusion, such as war or traveling to the empire's colonies in exotic locales like India or Africa. Kipling's most conspicuous detailing of the merits of friendship is "The Thousandth Man", but "Ballad", "If-" (which is modeled on a friend of Kipling's), "Ulster" and "Edgehill Fight" limn the strong ties between men and uphold them as invaluable.

  8. 8

    How are soldiers depicted in Kipling's poems?

    Kipling's soldiers are not larger-than-life men of tremendous heroics or feats of strength. They do not possess unbelievable amounts of courage or nobility. Rather, as the use of the vernacular in poems like "Danny Deever", "Gentlemen-Rankers" and "Tommy" suggests, these soldiers are lower-class, not very educated, and very much human. They are curious and coarse, brash and bemused. They are impressed very strongly by the sights and sounds and terrors of war, and cannot always press on bravely; they turn to drink and drug to ameliorate their suffering. They feel that their innocence is lost and that too much is asked of them. They are lonely and depressed when they return home. These are common working-class men fighting England's battles abroad and often at the cost of their own physical or emotional well-being.

  9. 9

    Why do the veterans of “The Last of the Light Brigade” suffer so heavily?

    The veterans from the charge of the light brigade in the Battle of Balaclava during the Crimean War were national heroes that were honored in Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s famous 1854 poem “The Charge of the Light Brigade”. Britons lauded their bravery and commitment to following orders. However, these veterans were not actually treated well when it came to obtaining food, shelter, and medical care from their country. They seemed to live on in the collective memory and culture but were forgotten as actual flesh-and-blood men who needed succor in their day-to-day existence. They keenly felt the disconnect between their fame and their experience. Kipling was very much attuned to the plight of the returning soldier facing an inhospitable or indifferent environment in their home country, and wrote several poems addressing this issue.

  10. 10

    Why has Kipling's reputation suffered?

    Kipling was an extremely popular writer during his own day. Indeed, he is still a popular writer today, especially in the genre of children's literature for his Jungle Books. "If-" is still an exceedingly popular poem. However, his reputation has suffered among modern readers and scholars due to his unabashed embrace of imperialism, colonialism, and ideas regarding the cultural supremacy of the white European races. His poems detail the lust for empire-building and depict it as a noble and pure endeavor, ignoring the terrible suffering, pain, and ignominy thrust upon the colonized peoples who never asked to be subjugated by another country. His descriptions of non-white races across the globe are backward and insulting, often reeking of racism. His views on gender roles are antiquated. Overall, it is not a popular position to advocate for Kipling's preeminence as a poet given the deleterious and discomfiting views he held on a few very significant subjects.