RUDYARD KIPLING

Rudyard Kipling is frequently perceived as an imperial poet, a writer who glorified British imperialism and who was, not to mince words a racist. Is this an accurate portrayal?

On my bookshelves sits “Kipling,  poems selected by James Cochrane”. Cochrane’s edition contains a wide and varied selection of Kipling’s verse ranging from “Recessional” through to “The Law of the Jungle”. However one poem which is missing from Cochrane’s selection is “The Stranger”. “The Stranger” is, arguably one of Kipling’s most overtly racist poems. In it Kipling argues that different races and/or nationalities can never, truly comprehend one another. We can see the physical shape of “the stranger” but not the inner soul which is, in essence different from our soul.

 

“The Stranger” has, not surprisingly been used by neo-Nazis in support of their anti-immigrant and racist ideology. For example the neo-Nazi American teen girl band, Prussian Blue have performed a song based on the poem which can be found on Youtube. Again the US-based National Vanguard (a neo-Nazi organisation) quotes “The Stranger” approvingly on it’s website.

 

THE STRANGER BY RUDYARD KIPLING

 

“The Stranger within my gate,
He may be true or kind,
But he does not talk my talk—
I cannot 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 or sell.

The Stranger within my gates,
He may be evil or good,
But I cannot tell what powers control—
What reasons sway his mood;
Nor when the Gods of his far-off land
Shall repossess his blood.

The men of my own stock,
Bitter bad they may be,
But, at least, they hear the things I hear,
And see the things I see;
And whatever I think of them and their likes
They think of the likes of me.

This was my father’s belief
And this is also mine:
Let the corn be all one sheaf—
And the grapes be all one vine,
Ere our children’s teeth are set on edge
By bitter bread and wine.”

 

The mere fact that a person’s words are used in support of a particular cause (in this instance neo-Nazism) does not in and of itself imply the writer approved (or in the case of dead authors) would have approved of such usage. Kipling was certainly an imperialist but so where the majority of the people alive at the time of his writing, however it is a big step from acknowledging this fact to labelling him as some kind of apologist for Nazism.

Up until the accession of Hitler to power Kipling’s works displayed the Swastika. However it should be remembered that this emblem is of ancient origin and it had no association with racism (to my knowledge) until it was adopted by Nazi Germany. Soon after it’s adoption by the Nazis Kipling, to his credit discontinued it’s use on his books and stated that the Nazis had “defiled” the symbol.

 

In stark contrast to “The Stranger” “Mandalay”, by the self-same poet describes the love of an English soldier for a Burmese maiden. The poem contains not one hint that the relationship is wrong due to the couple being of different races and is, in it’s own unique way rather moving.

 

MANDALAY BY RUDYARD KIPLING

 

“By the old Moulmein Pagoda, lookin’ lazy at the sea,
There’s a Burma girl a-settin’, and I know she thinks o’ me;
For the wind is in the palm-trees, and the temple-bells they say:
“Come you back, you British soldier; come you back to Mandalay! ”
Come you back to Mandalay,
Where the old Flotilla lay:
Can’t you ‘ear their paddles chunkin’ from Rangoon to Mandalay ?
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin’-fishes play,
An’ the dawn comes up like thunder outer China ‘crost the Bay!

‘Er petticoat was yaller an’ ‘er little cap was green,
An’ ‘er name was Supi-yaw-lat – jes’ the same as Theebaw’s Queen,
An’ I seed her first a-smokin’ of a whackin’ white cheroot,
An’ a-wastin’ Christian kisses on an ‘eathen idol’s foot:
Bloomin’ idol made o’ mud
Wot they called the Great Gawd Budd
Plucky lot she cared for idols when I kissed ‘er where she stud!
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin’-fishes play,
An’ the dawn comes up like thunder outer China ‘crost the Bay!

When the mist was on the rice-fields an’ the sun was droppin’ slow,
She’d git ‘er little banjo an’ she’d sing “Kulla-lo-lo!
With ‘er arm upon my shoulder an’ ‘er cheek agin my cheek
We useter watch the steamers an’ the hathis pilin’ teak.
Elephints a-pilin’ teak
In the sludgy, squdgy creek,
Where the silence ‘ung that ‘eavy you was ‘arf afraid to speak!
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin’-fishes play,
An’ the dawn comes up like thunder outer China ‘crost the Bay!

But that’s all shove be’ind me – long ago an’ fur away
An’ there ain’t no ‘busses runnin’ from the Bank to Mandalay;
An’ I’m learnin’ ‘ere in London what the ten-year soldier tells:
“If you’ve ‘eard the East a-callin’, you won’t never ‘eed naught else.”
No! you won’t ‘eed nothin’ else
But them spicy garlic smells,
An’ the sunshine an’ the palm-trees an’ the tinkly temple-bells;
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin’-fishes play,
An’ the dawn comes up like thunder outer China ‘crost the Bay!

I am sick o’ wastin’ leather on these gritty pavin’-stones,
An’ the blasted English drizzle wakes the fever in my bones;
Tho’ I walks with fifty ‘ousemaids outer Chelsea to the Strand,
An’ they talks a lot o’ lovin’, but wot do they understand?
Beefy face an’ grubby ‘and –
Law! wot do they understand?
I’ve a neater, sweeter maiden in a cleaner, greener land!

Ship me somewheres east of Suez, where the best is like the worst,
Where there aren’t no Ten Commandments an’ a man can raise a thirst;
For the temple-bells are callin’, an’ it’s there that I would be
By the old Moulmein Pagoda, looking lazy at the sea;
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the old Flotilla lay,
With our sick beneath the awnings when we went to Mandalay!
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin’-fishes play,
An’ the dawn comes up like thunder outer China ‘crost the Bay!”

 

Kipling was, as with so many of us a man of contraddictions.  On the one hand he regarded non-whites as “lesser breeds without the law” (see his “Recessional”), however he also possessed the capacity to see beyond skin colour as we have seen in his poem “Mandalay”. In short Kipling was an imperialist and yes (to some extent) a racist, however he was a product of his time and one should be careful of judging him over harshly. He produced some wonderful poetry, children’s stories and short stories for adults and whatever his faults he left a wonderful literary legacy for us to enjoy.     

 

 

 

 

  

 

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About kevinmorris101

I live and work in London and blog as a hobby. If you would like to contact me please send an email to animalia at shiftmail.com (the address is rendered in this manner in order to try and defeat spammers)!
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7 Responses to RUDYARD KIPLING

  1. Pingback: DANNY DEEVER BY RUDYARD KIPLING | My Blog

  2. Pingback: RECESSIONAL BY RUDYARD KIPLING | favourite poems

  3. Pingback: The Stranger | American-Rattlesnake

  4. parquet says:

    I dont disagree with this blog!

    • ElizaBeth says:

      Then you CANNOT claim to understand Kipling. ………… Then again, it’s “strange ” that you, thinking as you do, should be wasting time on this blog.

  5. Reblogged this on My Blog and commented:

    Having posted Kipling’s “Recessional” on 5 August, I was prompted to revisit some of my earlier posts on the poet. Kipling is a person full of contradictions. On the one hand he produced “The Stranger” which is, arguably his most overtly racist poem, however he was also able to see beyond skin colour as can be perceived in his poem “Mandalay” which recounts the love of an english soldier for a Burmese maiden.

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