Rudyard Kipling: Poems

Early adult life (1882–1914)

The Civil and Military Gazette in Lahore, the newspaper which Kipling was to call "mistress and most true love",[24] appeared six days a week throughout the year except for one-day breaks for Christmas and Easter. Stephen Wheeler, the editor, worked Kipling hard, but Kipling's need to write was unstoppable. In 1886, he published his first collection of verse, Departmental Ditties. That year also brought a change of editors at the newspaper; Kay Robinson, the new editor, allowed more creative freedom and Kipling was asked to contribute short stories to the newspaper.[5]

In an article printed in the Chums boys' annual, an ex-colleague of Kipling's stated that ..."he never knew such a fellow for ink—he simply revelled in it, filling up his pen viciously, and then throwing the contents all over the office, so that it was almost dangerous to approach him".[27] The anecdote continues: "In the hot weather, when he (Kipling) wore only white trousers and a thin vest, he is said to have resembled a Dalmatian dog more than a human being, for he was spotted all over with ink in every direction."

During the summer of 1883, Kipling visited Shimla (then known as Simla), a well-known hill station and the summer capital of British India. By then it was established practice for the Viceroy of India and the government to move to Simla for six months, and the town became a "centre of power as well as pleasure".[5] Kipling's family became yearly visitors to Simla, and Lockwood Kipling was asked to serve in Christ Church there. Rudyard Kipling returned to Simla for his annual leave each year from 1885 to 1888, and the town featured prominently in many of the stories that he wrote for the Gazette.[5]

He describes this time: "My month’s leave at Simla, or whatever Hill Station my people went to, was pure joy—every golden hour counted. It began in heat and discomfort, by rail and road. It ended in the cool evening, with a wood fire in one’s bedroom, and next morn—thirty more of them ahead!—the early cup of tea, the Mother who brought it in, and the long talks of us all together again. One had leisure to work, too, at whatever play-work was in one’s head, and that was usually full."[24]

Back in Lahore, some thirty-nine stories appeared in the Gazette between November 1886 and June 1887. Kipling included most of these stories in Plain Tales from the Hills, his first prose collection, which was published in Calcutta in January 1888, a month after his 22nd birthday. Kipling's time in Lahore, however, had come to an end. In November 1887, he was transferred to the Gazette's much larger sister newspaper, The Pioneer, in Allahabad in the United Provinces.

Kipling's writing continued at a frenetic pace; in 1888, he published six collections of short stories: Soldiers Three, The Story of the Gadsbys, In Black and White, Under the Deodars, The Phantom Rickshaw, and Wee Willie Winkie, containing a total of 41 stories, some quite long. In addition, as The Pioneer's special correspondent in the western region of Rajputana, he wrote many sketches that were later collected in Letters of Marque and published in From Sea to Sea and Other Sketches, Letters of Travel.[5]

Kipling was discharged from The Pioneer in early 1889, after a dispute. By this time, he had been increasingly thinking about the future. He sold the rights to his six volumes of stories for £200 and a small royalty, and the Plain Tales for £50; in addition, from The Pioneer, he received six-months' salary in lieu of notice.[24]

Return to London

He decided to use this money to make his way to London, the literary centre of the British Empire. On 9 March 1889, Kipling left India, travelling first to San Francisco via Rangoon, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Japan. He then travelled through the United States, writing articles for The Pioneer that were later published in From Sea to Sea and Other Sketches, Letters of Travel.[28]

Starting his American travels in San Francisco, Kipling journeyed north to Portland, Oregon; to Seattle, Washington; up into Canada, to Victoria and Vancouver, British Columbia; back into the U.S. to Yellowstone National Park; down to Salt Lake City; then east to Omaha, Nebraska, and on to Chicago, Illinois; then to Beaver, Pennsylvania on the Ohio River to visit the Hill family; from there, he went to Chautauqua with Professor Hill, and later to Niagara Falls, Toronto, Washington, D.C., New York, and Boston.[28]

In the course of this journey, he met Mark Twain in Elmira, New York, and was deeply impressed. He then crossed the Atlantic, and reached Liverpool in October 1889. He soon made his début in the London literary world—to great acclaim.[4]

London

In London, Kipling had several stories accepted by magazines. He also found a place to live for the next two years at Villiers street, near Charing cross (the building was subsequently named Kipling House):

Meantime, I had found me quarters in Villiers Street, Strand, which forty-six years ago was primitive and passionate in its habits and population. My rooms were small, not over-clean or well-kept, but from my desk I could look out of my window through the fanlight of Gatti’s Music-Hall entrance, across the street, almost on to its stage. The Charing Cross trains rumbled through my dreams on one side, the boom of the Strand on the other, while, before my windows, Father Thames under the Shot Tower walked up and down with his traffic.[29]

In the next two years, he published a novel, The Light that Failed, had a nervous breakdown, and met an American writer and publishing agent, Wolcott Balestier, with whom he collaborated on a novel, The Naulahka (a title which he uncharacteristically misspelt; see below).[17] In 1891, on the advice of his doctors, Kipling embarked on another sea voyage visiting South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and once again India.[17]

He cut short his plans for spending Christmas with his family in India when he heard of Balestier's sudden death from typhoid fever, and immediately decided to return to London. Before his return, he had used the telegram to propose to and be accepted by Wolcott's sister Caroline Starr Balestier (1862–1939), called "Carrie", whom he had met a year earlier, and with whom he had apparently been having an intermittent romance.[17] Meanwhile, late in 1891, his collection of short stories about the British in India, Life's Handicap, was published in London.[30]

On 18 January 1892, Carrie Balestier (aged 29) and Rudyard Kipling (aged 26) were married in London, in the "thick of an influenza epidemic, when the undertakers had run out of black horses and the dead had to be content with brown ones."[24] The wedding was held at All Souls Church, Langham Place. Henry James gave the bride away.

United States

The couple settled upon a honeymoon that would take them first to the United States (including a stop at the Balestier family estate near Brattleboro, Vermont) and then on to Japan.[17] When they arrived in Yokohama, Japan, they discovered that their bank, The New Oriental Banking Corporation, had failed. Taking this loss in their stride, they returned to the U.S., back to Vermont—Carrie by this time was pregnant with their first child—and rented a small cottage on a farm near Brattleboro for ten dollars a month.[24]

According to Kipling, "We furnished it with a simplicity that fore-ran the hire-purchase system. We bought, second or third hand, a huge, hot-air stove which we installed in the cellar. We cut generous holes in our thin floors for its eight-inch [20 cm] tin pipes (why we were not burned in our beds each week of the winter I never can understand) and we were extraordinarily and self-centredly content."[24]

In this house, which they called Bliss Cottage, their first child, Josephine, was born "in three foot of snow on the night of 29 December 1892. Her Mother’s birthday being the 31st and mine the 30th of the same month, we congratulated her on her sense of the fitness of things ..."[24]

It was also in this cottage that the first dawnings of the Jungle Books came to Kipling: " . . workroom in the Bliss Cottage was seven feet by eight, and from December to April the snow lay level with its window-sill. It chanced that I had written a tale about Indian Forestry work which included a boy who had been brought up by wolves. In the stillness, and suspense, of the winter of ’92 some memory of the Masonic Lions of my childhood’s magazine, and a phrase in Haggard’s Nada the Lily, combined with the echo of this tale. After blocking out the main idea in my head, the pen took charge, and I watched it begin to write stories about Mowgli and animals, which later grew into the two Jungle Books ".[24] With Josephine's arrival, Bliss Cottage was felt to be congested, so eventually the couple bought land—10 acres (40,000 m2) on a rocky hillside overlooking the Connecticut River—from Carrie's brother Beatty Balestier, and built their own house.

Kipling named the house Naulakha, in honour of Wolcott and of their collaboration, and this time the name was spelled correctly.[17] From his early years in Lahore (1882–87), Kipling had become enamored with the Mughal architecture,[31] especially the Naulakha pavilion situated in Lahore Fort, which eventually became an inspiration for the title of his novel as well as the house.[32] The house still stands on Kipling Road, three miles (5 km) north of Brattleboro in Dummerston, Vermont: a big, secluded, dark-green house, with shingled roof and sides, which Kipling called his "ship", and which brought him "sunshine and a mind at ease."[17] His seclusion in Vermont, combined with his healthy "sane clean life", made Kipling both inventive and prolific.

In the short span of four years, he produced, in addition to the Jungle Books, a collection of short stories (The Day's Work), a novel (Captains Courageous), and a profusion of poetry, including the volume The Seven Seas. The collection of Barrack-Room Ballads was issued in March 1892, first published individually for the most part in 1890, and containing his poems "Mandalay" and "Gunga Din". He especially enjoyed writing the Jungle Books—both masterpieces of imaginative writing—and enjoyed, too, corresponding with the many children who wrote to him about them.[17]

Life in New England

The writing life in naulakha was occasionally interrupted by visitors, including his father, who visited soon after his retirement in 1893,[17] and British writer Arthur Conan Doyle, who brought his golf-clubs, stayed for two days, and gave Kipling an extended golf lesson.[33][34] Kipling seemed to take to golf, occasionally practising with the local Congregational minister, and even playing with red-painted balls when the ground was covered in snow.[15][34] However, wintertime golf was "not altogether a success because there were no limits to a drive; the ball might skid two miles (3 km) down the long slope to Connecticut river."[15]

From all accounts, Kipling loved the outdoors,[17] not least of whose marvels in Vermont was the turning of the leaves each fall. He described this moment in a letter: "A little maple began it, flaming blood-red of a sudden where he stood against the dark green of a pine-belt. Next morning there was an answering signal from the swamp where the sumacs grow. Three days later, the hill-sides as fast as the eye could range were afire, and the roads paved, with crimson and gold. Then a wet wind blew, and ruined all the uniforms of that gorgeous army; and the oaks, who had held themselves in reserve, buckled on their dull and bronzed cuirasses and stood it out stiffly to the last blown leaf, till nothing remained but pencil-shadings of bare boughs, and one could see into the most private heart of the woods."[35]

In February 1896, Elsie Kipling was born, the couple's second daughter. By this time, according to several biographers, their marital relationship was no longer light-hearted and spontaneous.[36] Although they would always remain loyal to each other, they seemed now to have fallen into set roles.[17] In a letter to a friend who had become engaged around this time, the 30 year old Kipling offered this sombre counsel: marriage principally taught "the tougher virtues—such as humility, restraint, order, and forethought."[37]

The Kiplings loved life in Vermont and might have lived out their lives there, were it not for two incidents—one of global politics, the other of family discord—that hastily ended their time there. By the early 1890s, the United Kingdom and Venezuela were in a border dispute involving British Guiana. The U.S. had made several offers to arbitrate, but in 1895 the new American Secretary of State Richard Olney upped the ante by arguing for the American "right" to arbitrate on grounds of sovereignty on the continent (see the Olney interpretation as an extension of the Monroe Doctrine).[17] This raised hackles in the UK, and the situation grew into a major Anglo-American crisis, with talk of war on both sides.

Although the crisis led to greater U.S.-British cooperation, at the time Kipling was bewildered by what he felt was persistent anti-British sentiment in the U.S., especially in the press.[17] He wrote in a letter that it felt like being "aimed at with a decanter across a friendly dinner table."[37] By January 1896, he had decided[15] to end his family's "good wholesome life" in the U.S. and seek their fortunes elsewhere.

A family dispute became the final straw. For some time, relations between Carrie and her brother Beatty Balestier had been strained, owing to his drinking and insolvency. In May 1896, an inebriated Beatty encountered Kipling on the street and threatened him with physical harm.[17] The incident led to Beatty's eventual arrest, but in the subsequent hearing, and the resulting publicity, Kipling's privacy was destroyed, and he was left feeling miserable and exhausted. In July 1896, a week before the hearing was to resume, the Kiplings packed their belongings, left the United States, and returned to England.[15]

Devon

By September 1896, the Kiplings were in Torquay, Devon, on the southwestern coast of England, in a hillside home overlooking the English Channel. Although Kipling did not much care for his new house, whose design, he claimed, left its occupants feeling dispirited and gloomy, he managed to remain productive and socially active.[17]

Kipling was now a famous man, and in the previous two or three years, had increasingly been making political pronouncements in his writings. The Kiplings had welcomed their first son, John, in August 1897. Kipling had begun work on two poems, "Recessional" (1897) and "The White Man's Burden" (1899) which were to create controversy when published. Regarded by some as anthems for enlightened and duty-bound empire-building (that captured the mood of the Victorian age), the poems equally were regarded by others as propaganda for brazenfaced imperialism and its attendant racial attitudes; still others saw irony in the poems and warnings of the perils of empire.[17]

Take up the White Man's burden— Send forth the best ye breed— Go, bind your sons to exile To serve your captives' need; To wait, in heavy harness, On fluttered folk and wild— Your new-caught sullen peoples, Half devil and half child. —The White Man's Burden[38]

There was also foreboding in the poems, a sense that all could yet come to naught.[39]

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! —Recessional[40]

A prolific writer during his time in Torquay, he also wrote Stalky & Co., a collection of school stories (born of his experience at the United Services College in Westward Ho!) whose juvenile protagonists displayed a know-it-all, cynical outlook on patriotism and authority. According to his family, Kipling enjoyed reading aloud stories from Stalky & Co. to them, and often went into spasms of laughter over his own jokes.[17]

Visits to South Africa

In early 1898 the Kiplings travelled to South Africa for their winter holiday, thus beginning an annual tradition which (excepting the following year) was to last until 1908. They always stayed in "The Woolsack", a house on Cecil Rhodes' estate at Groote Schuur (and now a student residence for the University of Cape Town); it was within walking distance of Rhodes' mansion.[41]

With his new reputation as Poet of the Empire, Kipling was warmly received by some of the most influential politicians of the Cape Colony, including Rhodes, Sir Alfred Milner, and Leander Starr Jameson. Kipling cultivated their friendship and came to admire the men and their politics. The period 1898–1910 was crucial in the history of South Africa and included the Second Boer War (1899–1902), the ensuing peace treaty, and the 1910 formation of the Union of South Africa. Back in England, Kipling wrote poetry in support of the British cause in the Boer War and on his next visit to South Africa in early 1900, he became a correspondent for The Friend newspaper in Bloemfontein, which had been commandeered by Lord Roberts for British troops.[42]

Although his journalistic stint was to last only two weeks, it was Kipling's first work on a newspaper staff since he left The Pioneer in Allahabad more than ten years earlier.[17] At The Friend he made lifelong friendships with Perceval Landon, H. A. Gwynne and others.[43] He also wrote articles published more widely expressing his views on the conflict.[44] Kipling penned an inscription for the Honoured Dead Memorial (Siege memorial) in Kimberley.

During this period Kipling travelled throughout South Africa and told stories of these places through his poetry, such as the well known poem "Lichtenberg" which relates the story of a combatant and his journey towards death in a foreign land. Trooper Aberline’s sacrifice was to have an impact on the Boers and his legacy went far beyond his rusting cross in the Lichtenburg cemetery which lies close to that of Edith Mathews.[45]

Sussex

In 1897, Kipling moved from Torquay to Rottingdean, East Sussex; first to North End House and later to The Elms.[46] In 1902 Kipling bought Bateman's, a house built in 1634 and located in rural Burwash, East Sussex, England. Bateman's was Kipling's home from 1902 until his death in 1936.[47]

The house, along with the surrounding buildings, the mill and 33 acres (130,000 m2) was purchased for £9,300. It had no bathroom, no running water upstairs and no electricity, but Kipling loved it: "Behold us, lawful owners of a grey stone lichened house—A.D. 1634 over the door—beamed, panelled, with old oak staircase, and all untouched and unfaked. It is a good and peaceable place. We have loved it ever since our first sight of it." (from a November 1902 letter).[48][49]

In the non-fiction realm he became involved in the debate over the British response to the rise in German naval power known as the Tirpitz Plan to build a fleet to challenge the Royal Navy, publishing a series of articles in 1898 which were collected as A Fleet in Being. On a visit to the United States in 1899, Kipling and Josephine developed pneumonia, from which she eventually died.

'Peak of career'

In the wake of his daughter's death, Kipling concentrated on collecting material for what would become Just So Stories for Little Children. That work was published in 1902, the year after Kim was first issued.[50]

The first decade of the 20th century saw Kipling at the height of his popularity. In 1906 he wrote the song "Land of our Birth, We Pledge to Thee". Kipling wrote two science fiction short stories, With the Night Mail (1905) and As Easy As A. B. C (1912), both set in the 21st century in Kipling's Aerial Board of Control universe. These read like modern hard science fiction,[51] and introduced the literary technique known as indirect exposition, which would later become one of Heinlein's trademarks.[50]

In 1907, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. The prize citation said: "In consideration of the power of observation, originality of imagination, virility of ideas and remarkable talent for narration which characterize the creations of this world-famous author." Nobel prizes had been established in 1901 and Kipling was the first English-language recipient. At the award ceremony in Stockholm on 10 December 1907, the Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy, Carl David af Wirsén, praised both Kipling and three centuries of English literature:

The Swedish Academy, in awarding the Nobel Prize in Literature this year to Rudyard Kipling, desires to pay a tribute of homage to the literature of England, so rich in manifold glories, and to the greatest genius in the realm of narrative that that country has produced in our times.[52]

"Book-ending" this achievement was the publication of two connected poetry and story collections: Puck of Pook's Hill (1906), and Rewards and Fairies (1910). The latter contained the poem "If—". In a 1995 BBC opinion poll, it was voted the UK's favourite poem.[53] This exhortation to self-control and stoicism is arguably Kipling's most famous poem.[53]

Many older editions of Rudyard Kipling's books have a swastika printed on their covers associated with a picture of an elephant carrying a lotus flower, reflecting the influence of Indian culture. Kipling's use of the swastika was based on the Indian sun symbol conferring good luck and the Sanskrit word meaning "fortunate" or "well-being".[54]

In a note to Edward Bok written after the death of Lockwood Kipling in 1911, Rudyard said: "I am sending with this for your acceptance, as some little memory of my father to whom you were so kind, the original of one of the plaques that he used to make for me. I thought it being the Swastika would be appropriate for your Swastika. May it bring you even more good fortune."[54] He used the swastika symbol in both right- and left-facing orientations, and it was in general use at the time.[55][56]

Such was Kipling's popularity that he was asked by his friend Max Aitken to intervene in the 1911 Canadian election on behalf of the Conservatives.[57] On 7 September 1911, the Montreal Daily Star newspaper published a front-page appeal to all Canadians against the reciprocity agreement with the United States by Kipling who wrote: "It is her own soul that Canada risks today. Once that soul is pawned for any consideration, Canada must inevitably conform to the commercial, legal, financial, social and ethical standards which will be imposed on her by the sheer admitted weight of the United States."[57] Over the next week, Kipling's appeal was reprinted in every English newspaper in Canada, and is credited with helping to turn Canadian public opinion against the Liberal government that signed the reciprocity agreement.[57]

Kipling sympathised with the anti-Home Rule stance of Irish Unionists. He was friends with Edward Carson, the Dublin-born leader of Ulster Unionism, who raised the Ulster Volunteers to oppose "Home Rule" in Ireland. Kipling wrote the poem "Ulster" in 1912 reflecting this. Kipling was a staunch opponent of Bolshevism, a position which he shared with his friend Henry Rider Haggard. The two had bonded upon Kipling's arrival in London in 1889 largely on the strength of their shared opinions, and they remained lifelong friends.

Many have wondered why he was never made Poet Laureate. Some claim that he was offered the post during the interregnum of 1892–96 and turned it down.

Freemasonry

According to the English magazine Masonic Illustrated, Kipling became a Freemason in about 1885, before the usual minimum age of 21.[58] He was initiated into Hope and Perseverance Lodge No. 782 in Lahore. He later wrote to The Times, "I was Secretary for some years of the Lodge . . . , which included Brethren of at least four creeds. I was entered [as an Apprentice] by a member from Brahmo Somaj, a Hindu, passed [to the degree of Fellow Craft] by a Mohammedan, and raised [to the degree of Master Mason] by an Englishman. Our Tyler was an Indian Jew." Kipling received not only the three degrees of Craft Masonry, but also the side degrees of Mark Master Mason and Royal Ark Mariner.[59]

Kipling so loved his masonic experience that he memorialised its ideals in his famous poem, "The Mother Lodge",[60] and used the fraternity and its symbols as vital plot devices in his novella, The Man Who Would Be King.


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