Saturday, April 5, 2008

Pulling Kipling out from under the rug

Rudyard Kipling was always one of my dad's favorite authors. I remember him quoting "Gunga Din" and "Charge of the Light Brigade" from memory when I was growing up, and I knew the plot of Kim long before I ever read it. There was a time when he was considered one the premiere authors of the Victorian age. Yet when you page through the literature books we use today, he's barely a blip.

Where Gerard Hopkins gets an individual entry and four or five poems, Kipling is relegated to a bio page he shares with three second stringers, and we only get one poem, "Recessional." While I realize that much of what he wrote is an uncomfortable reminder of the era of brazen empire building during the reign of Victoria, I also believe that Kipling's work gives us meaning that is extremely relevant today.

I doubt there is a high school literature book published in the U.S. that contains "White Man's Burden," but I find that work eerily prophetic. Kipling wrote the poem as a way of giving the United States some advice when he saw that we were dipping a toe into the pool of military expansionism. He saw what Britain had gone through and wanted us to be fully aware of what we were in for if we followed in their footsteps. Which we did. Boy, did we ever. Whether he was for our involvement or was warning us not to engage in empire building is beside the point. Take his name off the poem, remove the date and show the poem to anyone in the country and I'd bet you'd find that most would guess that the poem was written within the last seven years. Screw Nostradamus, Kipling is the true prophet of 911.

I just find it sad that so many academics who preach that to ignore history's lessons is to repeat their mistakes are so willing to hide one of history's potentially great teachers simply because they're embarrassed of the period in which he lived.

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