Imperialism in Kipling's poetry
Rudyard Kipling was born at Bombay, India in 1865, in the midst of a period during which England and all her neighboring nations were busy with wars—-wars either for the purpose of adding more territory or of keeping that already gained. His family background and inheritance gave him an active, seeking mind, a tenacity of purpose, and a love of words and books. His early years spent in India where he learned to speak both the native Hindustani and English—the former, the more fluently—-began his education for an understanding of Empire. His schooling in England away from his family gave him added knowledge which was to further that understanding. Possibly the years spent at Southsea were bitter; but they certainly drove him headlong into the world of books and laid a foundation for his life work. Certainly his school days at Westward Ho: were profitable since, under the guidance of his masters, his desire to write took full possession of him. Into his years at school his father introduced an interlude-—his visit to Paris during the Exhibition of '78. There he acquired his first ideas of international relationships, learned to speak French and to love France. From his visit he returned to school with more material stored in his restless, active mind. He learned to write on many subjects, using his pen as an instrument of praise or torture. Before he left the achool he had had several poems published by magazines which paid him for his work. In addition, his mother had collected and privately published a volume of the poems which he had sent her from time to time during those school days. And he had shown by his Ave Imperatrix a trace of that imperialism which was to grow. The years spent in India serving on the editorial staff of two papers—-the "Civil and Militay Gazette" in Lahore and later the "Pioneer" in Allahabad—-taught Kipling many things which were to add to his growth as an imperialistic poet. He gained first hand knowledge of the work of both the Armed Forces and the Civil Commissions from long arguments and talks in the Club. He made friends with the British soldiers and laid the basis for his poems of those soldiers which were to make him famous. Both papers used the young man as a roving reporter and so his knowledge of India and all her peoples was greatly increased. Also, through his habit of night wandering, he came in close contact with the natives in their own environment. Both papers began to use his poems and short stories as material to fill in gaps was needed-—thus he learned to say much in little space and acquired his versatility of expression. The collection of these into two volumes was to be his first published adult work. Always and increasingly through the years Kipling desired to return to England and to visit the widespread colonies of what he was beginning to think of as Empire. At last he persuaded the "Pioneer" to give him a roving commission and selling the rights to his few volumes he started for England, via Japan and United States, arriving in London in 1889. It was during this trip that he wrote to the "Pioneer" that he felt the English people needed a poet to sing of their greatness. While later in London his poem The Neolithic Age declared him as the "singer of my clan" in those early years—-thus implying that he would henceforth undertake to sing of the Empire. From the time of this return to England he as to wander widely and frequently over the Empire; but always he returned to England. He lived for a few years in the United States and although he married an American and had meny friends among the Americans, he never seemed able to understand and like the citizens of the country as a whole. Some of his time out of England was spent in South Africa. Here he formed an enduring friend ship with Cecil Rhodes. All his travels served apparently to strengthen his love of Empire and its English heart. His poetry began to show his power to express in verse opinions on Empire matters. Throughout his lifetime he was to use his poetic gift to show the reading public what its Empire meant, how it had been built, and the struggles that resulted from that building—both military and political. He was to take a definite stand in many matters of controversy and present that stand through his poetry, as in--"Cleared", Ulster, and The Declaration of London. He was to tell the story of the explorers, pioneers and settlers and their hardships as they flung the limits of the Empire across sea and land. He was to draw lessons from the wars of the Empire and thus try to teach the Empire its need for unity. He was to send poetic warnings to all the peoples—some of which have an almost prophetic ring. Because of his fearless criticism of politicians and his repeated warnings against inertia, he was to become quite unpopular with many of his fellow citizens. However, as always when a strong mind makes itself heard, he was to have many admirers. There were few events of Empire importance which he did not use as topics for his pen. Beginning in his school days with Ave Imperatrix he continued to write of them until his death; giving us among others:-- Our Lady of the Snows in honor of the Canadian Preferential tariff of 1897; The Young Queen, when Australia became a dominion; The Dead King, on the death of Edward VII; and The King and The Sea, at the coronation of George V. In fact, he had become such a chronicler of the Empire's events that when he died so brief a time before his ruler, it was said that the King had lost his poet-—and this in spite of the fact that he was never made Poet Lauriate. Among his warning poems are The Old Men, The Islanders, and The Dykes—-all of which might as well have been written for the present war as for the generation before World War I. All through Kipling's poetry is found an almost unBritish emotional expression of love, hope, or fear for the Empire and in none of them is this so strongly marked as in his famous hymn or prayer for grace and help—-the Recessional. Certainly the British Empire and the world lost a powerful singer of Empire events when he died in 1936; for he was blessed with the rare combination of Empire sense and understanding and poetic ability. It is interesting to speculate as to what he would have written of today when one notices the number of times radio news reporters quota from his poetry and also how like Kipling the news of the world sounds.
This item was digitized by the Internet Archive. Thesis (M.A.)--Boston University