Tag Archives: rudyard kipling

Banning Books

A couple of weeks ago, I fell into conversation with a librarian. During the course of our conversation she mentioned that the library does not stock books which their readers might “find offensive”. This exchange got me thinking about how one defines what constitutes “offensive”, and whether something being so classified is a sufficient reason for not allowing it on to the library’s shelves.

The great English author and poet, Rudyard Kipling is loved by people of every race and creed. Yet a number of his writings would, in today’s society be considered “offensive” by many. Take, for instance his poem “The Stranger” which begins thus:

“The Stranger within my gate,
He may be true or kind,
But he does not talk my talk –
I can not feel his mind.
I see the face and the eyes and the mouth,
But not the soul behind.

The men of my own stock
They may do ill or well,
But they tell the lies I am wonted to,
They are used to the lies I tell.
And we do not need interpreters
When we go to buy and sell”. (http://www.kiplingsociety.co.uk/poems_stranger.htm”.

The message of “The Stranger” is, in effect that people of different races should not mix (I.E. the black should stick to the black, the Asian to the Asian and the white to the white”. This is not a view I share and I can understand why many people find Kipling’s sentiments highly offensive.

“The Stranger” can be found in any complete collection of Kipling’s poems. Given that most people (including me) find the sentiments expressed in the poem offensive, should libraries not stock complete collections of Kipling’s works on the grounds that readers may be offended by them?

To answer the above question we need to stand back and look at “The Stranger” from the perspective of the time of it’s composition. The poem was written in 1908, at a time when many Englishmen (of all political persuasions) held views which we would, today regard as racist. Kipling believed that Britain had a duty to look after what he (in “The White man’s Burden” terms as “lesser breeds without the law”. This was not (as with the Nazis), a belief that those with white skin had the right to enslave or exterminate those of darker skin. Rather it was a paternalistic (and to us today) patronising view. It was not, however an uncommon opinion (as stated above) and was (as previously mentioned), widely held by Europeans at that time.

To banish “The Stranger” from library shelves would be a deeply illiberal act. Educated adults can employ their judgement and understand the historical context in which “The Stranger” was written and (without in any way justifying the message of the poem) appreciate the musicality of “The Stranger”.

One of the problems with defining what is offensive, is that what I may find offensive my friend Jo Bloggs may find perfectly acceptable. For example some religious people wish to see books which (in their words) “promote homosexuality” banished from libraries. They regard gay sex as immoral and believe that those who engage in it (or, via books, the media etc “promote”) it are ungodly. This is not a view I share, however those holding it are entitled to do so. What they are not entitled to do is to foist their opinions on others. If you don’t approve of a particular book, don’t read it, but don’t dictate to others what they can and can not read.

In conclusion, adults should be treated as such and not as children who need to be protected from reading something which may “deprave”, “offend” or “corrupt” them. Its perfectly possible that some of the views which are, today mainstream may, in the future be considered as “offensive”. I trust that, if this does transpire, that the librarians of the future will treat adults, as adults and not as children.

I would, of course be interested to hear your views and, in particular those of any librarians who may read this post.

Kevin

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(From my archives) – “Kipling May Regret”

This poem first appeared here on 9 April 2017:

In the restaurant its just the waiter and I,
While outside the window Vehicles speed by.
“There are a lot of beautiful women outside today”,
He remarks by way
Of conversation.
I drink
My wine and think
About this nation
On who’s empire the sun would never set.

Kipling may regret,
Yet
The sun continues to shine
And there is curry and wine,
While in the street
Multiracial feet
Hurry
Along,
Beating out a more or less harmonious song.

L’Envoi, by Rudyard Kipling

THE smoke upon your altar dies,
The flowers decay.
The Goddess of your sacrifice
Has flown away.
What profit then to sing or slay
The sacrifice from day to day ?

“We know the shrine is void,” they said,
“The Goddess flown –
“Yet wreaths are on the altar laid –
“The Altar-Stone
“Is black with fumes of sacrifice,
“Albeit She has fled our eyes.

“For, it may be, if still we sing
“And tend the shrine,
“Some deity on wandering wing
“May there incline;
“And finding all in order meet,
“Stay while we worship at her feet. ”

“Dane-Geld” By Rudyard Kipling

IT IS always a temptation to an armed and agile nation
To call upon a neighbour and to say: –
“We invaded you last night – we are quite prepared to fight,
Unless you pay us cash to go away.”

And that is called asking for Dane-geld,
And the people who ask it explain
That you’ve only to pay ’em the Dane-geld
And then you’ll get rid of the Dane!

It is always a temptation for a rich and lazy nation,
To puff and look important and to say: –
“Though we know we should defeat you,
we have not the time to meet you.
We will therefore pay you cash to go away.”

And that is called paying the Dane-geld;
But we’ve proved it again and again,
That if once you have paid him the Dane-geld
You never get rid of the Dane.

It is wrong to put temptation in the path of any nation,
For fear they should succumb and go astray;
So when you are requested to pay up or be molested,
You will find it better policy to say: —

“We never pay any-one Dane-geld,
No matter how trifling the cost;
For the end of that game is oppression and shame,
And the nation that plays it is lost!”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Danegeld

Made In Britain

Everything will fail.

On my new shower rail

is written

“made in Britain”.

Kipling is out of fashion

yet there remains a passion

for things made here.

Caesar’s ghost stands near.

The sneer

On Ozymandias’s face

Has been wiped from it’s place

Leaving only sand

And barren land.

Everything will fail.

On my new shower rail

is written

“made in Britain”.

 

 

Yesterday I purchased a new shower rail and was pleased to discover that it was made in Britain. This sparked the above poem.

Danny Dever By Rudyard Kipling

On awaking this morning Kipling’s poem, Danny Dever kept for some unaccountable reason replaying itself in my head. Ever since coming across Danny Dever in the school library as a child in Liverpool I have always entertained a liking for it. However why the poem should pop into my waking mind this morning remains a mystery to me.

Danny Dever was first published in February 1890. The poem recounts the execution of a British soldier for murdering a sleeping comrade and is the first example of the poet’s work which relates matters from the common soldier’s perspective. According to the Kipling Society, (http://www.kiplingsociety.co.uk/rg_deever1.htm) Danny Dever almost certainly draws on the execution of a private Flaxman, in January 1887, in Lucknow, India for murdering a fellow soldier. The attention to detail of the poem indicates that the poet was familiar with the Lucknow incident. There is, however no evidence that Kipling himself witnessed a military execution.

 

Danny Deever

 

——————————————————————————–

 

“WHAT are the bugles blowin’ for? ” said Files-on-Parade.

“To turn you out, to turn you out,” the Colour-Sergeant said.

“What makes you look so white, so white? ” said Files-on-Parade.

“I’m dreadin’ what I’ve got to watch,” the Colour-Sergeant said.

For they’re hangin’ Danny Deever, you can hear the Dead March play

The regiment’s in ‘ollow square – they’re hangin’ him to-day;

They’ve taken of his buttons off an’ cut his stripes away,

An’ they’re hangin’ Danny Deever in the mornin’.

 

“What makes the rear-rank breathe so ‘ard? ” said Files-on-Parade.

“It’s bitter cold, it’s bitter cold,” the Colour-Sergeant said.

“What makes that front-rank man fall down? ” said Files-on-Parade.

“A touch o’ sun, a touch o’ sun,” the Colour-Sergeant said.

They are hangin’ Danny Deever, they are marchin’ of ‘im round,

They ‘ave ‘alted Danny Deever by ‘is coffin on the ground;

An’ e’ll swing in ‘arf a minute for a sneakin’ shootin’ hound

0 they’re hangin’ Danny Deever in the mornin’!

 

” ‘Is cot was right-‘and cot to mine,” said Files-on-Parade.

” ‘E’s sleepin’ out an’ far to-night,” the Colour-Sergeant said.

“I’ve drunk ‘is beer a score o’ times,” said Files-on-Parade.

” ‘E’s drinkin’ bitter beer alone,” the Colour-Sergeant said.

They are hangin’ Danny Deever, you must mark ‘im to ‘is place,

For ‘e shot a comrade sleepin’ – you must look ‘im in the face;

Nine ‘undred of ‘is county an’ the Regiment’s disgrace,

While they’re hangin’ Danny Deever in the mornin’.

 

“What’s that so black agin the sun? ” said Files-on-Parade.

“It’s Danny fightin’ ‘ard for life,” the Colour-Sergeant said.

“What’s that that whimpers over’ead? ” said Files-on-Parade.

“It’s Danny’s soul that’s passin’ now,” the Colour-Sergeant said.

For they’re done with Danny Deever, you can ‘ear the quickstep play

The regiment’s in column, an’ they’re marchin’ us away;

Ho! the young recruits are shakin’, an’ they’ll want their beer to-day,

After hangin’ Danny Deever in the mornin’.

 

(http://www.kiplingsociety.co.uk/poems_deever.htm).

My Boy Jack Review

Yesterday evening my friend Brian and I attended a production of My Boy Jack at the Teddington Theatre Club, http://www.teddingtontheatreclub.org.uk/production/my-boy-jack. I wholeheartedly recommend the production which, unfortunately finishes it’s run today (Saturday 5 July).

At the outbreak of World War I Rudyard Kipling is determined that his severely short sighted son John (known as Jack) should enlist in the army. Having been rejected 3 times due to his poor eyesight Kipling uses his influence to secure Jack a position as an officer in the Irish Guards. Jack goes missing in 1915 and is later found to have been killed while leading his platoon into battle.

The portrayal of life in the trenches is masterful. The colourful language and the sheer gut wrenching terror of the soldiers who feel in their bones they are going over the top of the trenches to almost inevitable death had me feeling that I was present with Jack and his platoon. The relentless rain mingled with the sound of heavy artillery brought the battlefield to life. Fortunately the Director had kindly warned me about the sound effects during the first half of the play so my guide dog Trigger remained with her outside the theatre until the interval which is, I feel sure not in her job description!

Jack’s enlistment and subsequent death causes huge tension in the Kipling household. Throughout the play his sister is vocal in denouncing her father for exerting pressure on Jack to enlist despite knowing that his vision is virtually non existent in the absence of glasses. Kipling’s daughter is an angry, vocal young woman who refuses to be silenced.

The Kipling family are visited by a survivor of Jack’s platoon who describes seeing Jack seriously wounded and then vanishing in a burst of shell fire. Kipling’s response is that his son has died gloriously fighting for Britain but his wife and daughter see his death as futile. In an emotional sceene Kipling admits that he must see Jack’s sacrifice as meaningful otherwise there is nothing left to hold onto. He loves his country and can not concede that his son may have died, stumbling around, blind in the trenches for no rhyme or reason. In the end there is a reconciliation of sorts in the Kipling family but the death of Jack remains ever present.

As a visually impaired person I felt for Jack as he struggled to read the letters during his medical examination for the army. Ironically had his father not used his influence Jack would have survived the war as he was medically unfit for military service due to his severely impaired vision but then, of course there would have been no play.