Wednesday, July 23, 2008

'The Gods of the Copybook Headings' - Rudyard Kipling

Welcome to Glenn Beck watchers.  Poem first. Analysis later.
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.

UPDATE [11 June 2010]:  Acute analysis here from Robert Tracinski:
The title of Rudyard Kipling’s poem is obscure today but would have been clear to any educated Englishman of his day. A copybook was a kind of penmanship exercise in which the student copied over and over again a sentence printed in the heading at the top of each page. These copybook headings were usually aphorisms or statements of commonsense wisdom, so Kipling used the Gods of the Copybook Headings as a symbol for basic, immutable truths.
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.
The point of the poem is that the various schemes for “social progress” being promoted at the time—and most of them are still with us today—are based on denying the basic truths represented by the Gods of the Copybook Headings.
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.
Kipling’s derisive reference to the “Gods of the Market Place” was not intended as anti-capitalist. “The market” is not short for “the free market,” as it is in contemporary parlance. Rather, the “market” refers to the public spaces where people gather to listen to demagogues who promise the impossible and the irrational—the function performed by CNN today. 
Which brings us to modern politicians and the collapse of the European welfare state...

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5 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will bum"

Still going both ends eh?

7/22/2008 09:32:00 pm  
Anonymous Sus said...

" .. and the brave new world begins When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins .. "

No shortage of subscribers to that.

7/23/2008 10:56:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd rank Kipling alongside Orwell as no less that a modern-day (well mordern-ish) prophet and seer.

EXOCET

7/23/2008 12:09:00 pm  
Blogger KG said...

Too right, Sus! :-)

7/23/2008 12:16:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

wow this is great. I hate welfare."When all men are paid for existing".

6/12/2010 07:56:00 am  

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