Do You Kipple? – Alma Boykin
Asking Huns and Hoydens if they’ve ever heard of Rudyard Kipling is a bit like asking a fish if it knows how to swim. You’d get a blank look (assuming you spoke the right dialect of Fish) and a response along the lines of “Doesn’t everyone?” At some point in our lives, the majority of us were introduced, stumbled into, or discovered Kipling’s poetry, and probably his short stories. I suspect fewer of us have read his novels, especially Kim. The Light that Failed is interesting but not as good, in my opinion. The Nauhlahka was co-written with a friend and ahm, er, is pretty terrible. Captains Courageous is pretty good.
He got me through very hard emotional times in Germany, sustained me in grad school, and if I were forced to rebuild civilization from scratch, the Authorized translation of the Bible (aka the KJV) and Rudyard Kipling’s Complete Verse would be on my short list of works to start with. I love some of his poems, I flinch from a few, and a very few make me wonder if he were having an especially bad day, or was under the influence of something especially good.
So, a question: do you recall what your first introduction to Rudyard Kipling’s work was? And what is your favorite poem or story of his?
I first met Kipling when I was five or six and my parents read the Jungle Book and Just-So Stories to me. This came after seeing the TV cartoon of “Rikki-tikki-tavi,” but before the movie of the Jungle Book. I read Kim as a teenager, once I knew enough about the Raj to understand what was going on with the Great Game.
My favorite Kipling is a lot harder to pin down. It changed over time. I locked onto “Baa baa Blacksheep” when I was a teenager and the target-of-choice for jerks in Junior High and High School. “The City of Brass” both appeals to me (when I’m angry at society) and terrifies me (because of society). Most of us know the “Gods of the Copybook Headings” at least in part, and probably mutter under our breaths on occasion, “As surely as water will wet us, as surely as fire will burn/ The Gods of the Copybook Headings/ With terror and slaughter return!”
For the wild excitement and bravado of the story, “The Ballad of East and West” ranks up there with Banjo Patterson’s “Man from Snowy River,” and I can recite large chunks of both from memory. “The Way through the Woods” and “Bridge Guard at the Karoo” both evoke nature and emotion so well, and I’ve used “Way through the Woods” to introduce the Romantic Movement to my history students, even though Kipling is not officially considered a Romantic poet. He did a lot of Romances, in the sense of heroic tales of kings and princes and warriors and last stands, but he’s not Longfellow. On the other hand, soldiers in the US and British armies (and probably others) don’t use Longfellow as teaching tools the way they use “Arithmetic on the Frontier” or “Soldiers of the Queen.” Leslie Fish’s setting of “Puck’s Song” makes me smile every time I sing it, in part because she peels back the history of Sussex in a way I love to do with other places.
Kipling’s verse is finally coming out of copyright and is becoming more available, for which I give great thanks. If you can find a copy of M. M. Kaye’s edition of Kipling, The Moon of Other Days, snatch up a copy. Her notes and the illustrations are absolutely magnificent.
So, do you Kipple?