‘You’re a Better Man Than I Am, Gunga Din!’

 

One of my favorite authors, Rudyard Kipling, died 85 years ago today. Eighty-five years. Lord, not all that long ago. I’m within two decades of that lived milestone myself. (I’m 66, for those of you who are keeping track, or who’d like to weigh in on what an irrelevant old hag I am.) On that day (January 18, 1936), almost all the members of my family–Mum, Dad, aunties and uncles, grandparents, etc.–who formed my early life experiences and values had been born and were very much alive. I remember them all.

These days, it’s fashionable to criticize, or even cancel, Kipling for his supposedly “racist” views, and because he expressed them in the decades before I was born, in a different time and in a different world. We now live in a world in which the ability to express “black and brown” voices is somehow contingent on the requirement that other, “white” voices be suppressed and deleted. “Better, or worse?” to phrase it in the language that my optician uses when he’s giving me the option to tell him which version of the eye chart might best indicate the state of my failing vision and the need to move towards a stronger prescription.

Easy answer, that.

Worse. Suppression of voices is always worse. And never more so than in an historical context when, for “better or worse” they have already been documented, and, for “better or worse” they are already on the record. How else should we recognize the mistakes of the past than by facing them? How does canceling or deleting them help in that endeavor? Pro tip: It doesn’t. But it does at least remove the pretense that our ideas should engage with intellectual rigor to overcome ideas we may find distasteful, and it makes it easier to proclaim (what I am pretty sure, given human nature, is temporary) victory.

Rudyard Kipling lost a son in WWI. By all current shibboleths, this should give him absolute moral authority in anything he says from that point on. But, no. His ideas aren’t popular from the standpoint of the culturally ignorant.

Poor man. And poor family.

Without further ado, I append one of his most famous poems, one I’ve written about before, and one which the Left would much prefer to cancel. Please let me know if you find it somehow offensive. I’d love to chat.

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

Published in General
This post was promoted to the Main Feed by a Ricochet Editor at the recommendation of Ricochet members. Like this post? Want to comment? Join Ricochet’s community of conservatives and be part of the conversation. Get your first month free.

There are 41 comments.

Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.
  1. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    That is such an inspiring poem, She. Thanks.

    • #1
  2. JoelB Member
    JoelB
    @JoelB

    There is much to think about and aspire to here.

    • #2
  3. Lilly B Coolidge
    Lilly B
    @LillyB

    Sorry, you’ll find no offense here. I love this poem. Maybe you’d have better luck being “cancelled” on Twitter? (It seems to me that recent events have vindicated the Ricochet business model which requires members to pay to participate.)

    • #3
  4. David Foster Member
    David Foster
    @DavidFoster

    Interesting essay on Kipling by George Orwell:

    https://www.orwell.ru/library/reviews/kipling/english/e_rkip

    • #4
  5. Sisyphus Inactive
    Sisyphus
    @Sisyphus

    Kipling is a giant for the ages, he will be remembered long after his pygmy detractors are recycled as Soylent Green.

    • #5
  6. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    She: These days, it’s fashionable to criticize, or even cancel, Kipling for his supposedly “racist” views, and because he expressed them in the decades before I was born, in a different time and in a different world.

    Only by people who will have been forgotten a week after they’ve gone cold. And Kipling will still be with us.

    • #6
  7. David Foster Member
    David Foster
    @DavidFoster

    Here’s another Kipling poem, which I think is very interesting and is not too well-known: Tomlinson

    I cited this poem in my review of Koestler’s The Age of Longing, a novel which is basically about the western world’s loss of cultural self-confidence: Link

     

     

    • #7
  8. KCVolunteer Lincoln
    KCVolunteer
    @KCVolunteer

    It’s always good to be reminded of universal truths.

    Oh wait, you were looking for an argument;-)

    I will admit to some discouragement, as my church just agreed to go back to in-person services after cancelling them on 11/16, because of new state restrictions (that the Governor couldn’t apply to churches, separation and all that), when our county had a peak of 186 new confirmed cases COVID, and has been lower every day but two since. The peak on 12/7 was only 113, and you have to go back to before 11/5 to find lower peaks. The total on 1/16 was 13, and they just moments ago started talking about resuming, but not for another three weeks. This, when masks and “social” distancing were always supposed to protect us. So, we’ve already gone along with this two months longer than we should have.

    I thought I belonged to a conservative church, but they all seem to readily accept the narrative without any healthy skepticism, or investigation. Easier to do what the “Experts” tell us.

    Sorry about kvetching. I guess I just needed to get this off my chest.

    Thanks, @She for the poem, it really hits home, not only today, but at this particular moment. Sometimes even I can see God’s timing is perfect.

    If you can keep your head when all about you
    Are losing theirs

    • #8
  9. MWD B612 "Dawg" Member
    MWD B612 "Dawg"
    @danok1

    I think Kipling caught the attitude of society towards soldiers (and the military in general) in “Tommy Atkins”:

    Yes, makin’ mock o’ uniforms that guard you while you sleep
    Is cheaper than them uniforms, an’ they’re starvation cheap.
    An’ hustlin’ drunken soldiers when they’re goin’ large a bit
    Is five times better business than paradin’ in full kit.
    Then it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an` Tommy, ‘ow’s yer soul? “
    But it’s ” Thin red line of ‘eroes ” when the drums begin to roll
    The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
    O it’s ” Thin red line of ‘eroes, ” when the drums begin to roll.

    And Tommy answers back:

    You talk o’ better food for us, an’ schools, an’ fires, an’ all:
    We’ll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.
    Don’t mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
    The Widow’s Uniform is not the soldier-man’s disgrace.
    For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an` Chuck him out, the brute! “
    But it’s ” Saviour of ‘is country ” when the guns begin to shoot;
    An’ it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ anything you please;
    An ‘Tommy ain’t a bloomin’ fool – you bet that Tommy sees!

    Kipling gets a bum deal from the current generation.

    • #9
  10. Captain French Moderator
    Captain French
    @AlFrench

    @she, did I ever tell you that I have the complete works of Kipling in 23 volumes?

    I did? Let me rub it in. 😉

    Nice post as usual.

    • #10
  11. Pete EE Member
    Pete EE
    @PeteEE

    This one seems timely,

    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!

    • #11
  12. She Reagan
    She
    @She

    Thanks, all. Yes, so eminently quotable, and so much wisdom and good sense.

    I was going through some of Dad’s papers after he died and I found an index card (remember index cards?) with a Kipling poem that I’d never read before typed out on it. That’s when I realized that the title of Dad’s first book, Concerning Brave Captains, was taken from Kipling. The poem is called “Great-Heart,” and was written for Teddy Roosevelt. The title of the poem is taken from a line in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, “The interpreter then called for a man-servant of his, one Great-Heart.” It’s thematically quite similar to “If,” although it’s a retrospective of a life, rather than advice to what I always think of as a young man.

    I think it must have had a special meaning for Dad to have typed it out himself and kept it close

    Concerning brave Captains
    Our age hath made known
    For all men to honour,
    One standeth alone,
    Of whom, o’er both oceans,
    Both peoples may say:
    “Our realm is diminished
    With Great-Heart away.”

    In purpose unsparing,
    In action no less,
    The labours he praised
    He would seek and profess
    Through travail and battle,
    At hazard and pain. . . .
    And our world is none the braver
    Since Great-Heart was ta’en!

    Plain speech with plain folk,
    And plain words for false things,
    Plain faith in plain dealing
    ‘Twixt neighbours or kings,
    He used and he followed,
    However it sped. . . .
    Oh, our world is none more honest
    Now Great-Heart is dead!

    The heat of his spirit
    Struck warm through all lands;
    For he loved such as showed
    ‘Emselves men of their hands;
    In love, as in hate,
    Paying home to the last. . . .
    But our world is none the kinder
    Now Great-Heart hath passed!

    Hard-schooled by long power,
    Yet most humble of mind
    Where aught that he was
    Might advantage mankind.
    Leal servant, loved master,
    Rare comrade, sure guide. . . .
    Oh, our world is none the safer
    Now Great-Heart hath died!

    Let those who would handle
    Make sure they can wield
    His far-reaching sword
    And his close-guarding shield:
    For those who must journey
    Henceforward alone
    Have need of stout convoy
    Now Great-Heart is gone.

    • #12
  13. Ontheleftcoast Inactive
    Ontheleftcoast
    @Ontheleftcoast

    There’s a passage in Bugles and a Tiger in which John Masters reflects on Kipling. Masters served with The Prince of Wales’ Own 4th Gurkha Rifles on the Afghan frontier before WWII, in Mesopotamia as things were heating up, and behind Japanese lines in Burma. He was from an old Anglo-Indian family. He disliked some of the ways Kipling wrote about Indians, and yet, when his service brought him to a part of India he hadn’t yet been to, it seemed very familiar to him. It dawned on him that he was in Mowgli country—the Seeonee Hills; he knew that for that to be possible, Kipling had to have been writing from love.

    Masters’ own writing about India has been the subject of similar controversy. His novels range from decent to excellent, his memoirs are superb.

    • #13
  14. Basil Fawlty Member
    Basil Fawlty
    @BasilFawlty
    An' the dawn comes up like thunder outer China 'crost the Bay! 
    • #14
  15. Linguaphile Member
    Linguaphile
    @Linguaphile

    So this post and the literate thoughtful responses that followed are the reasons I am on Ricochet! I learned so much in reading this. I didn’t know that Kipling had written a poem about Teddy Roosevelt for example. These sorts of discussions make this site encouraging and satisfying.

     

    • #15
  16. Caryn Thatcher
    Caryn
    @Caryn

    “If” is one of my favorite poems and Kipling a huge favorite. He was a man of his era, but also bigger, much bigger, than the era. He will live on well past the demise of these mewling and puking infants trying to take over the country.

    • #16
  17. Kay of MT Member
    Kay of MT
    @KayofMT

    Kipling, my most favorite poet ever. I have a book of his poems, but not a full collection.

    • #17
  18. GlennAmurgis Coolidge
    GlennAmurgis
    @GlennAmurgis

     “The Gods of the Copybook Headings” is another good poem from Kipling 

     

    • #18
  19. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    GlennAmurgis (View Comment):

    “The Gods of the Copybook Headings” is another good poem from Kipling

    The same gods teach us that two and two make four after we decided not to believe it and hurt ourselves in the process.

    Which brings us to another fine Ricochet post of this fine morning.

    https://ricochet.com/871940/fighting-for-consensual-reality

    • #19
  20. davenr321 Coolidge
    davenr321
    @davenr321

    My twins, now 11, were introduced to Kipling with “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi” at 3, and then again several times later as there is an excellent animated adaptation available. As far as his cancellation goes, I wouldn’t bet on it, “The Jungle Book” is way too valuable a property. 

    We watched the Sam Jaffe (he’s the star, right?) “Gunga Din” and that was enough for us to check out the poem together.

    • #20
  21. Basil Fawlty Member
    Basil Fawlty
    @BasilFawlty

    Nag and Nagiana: Chuck and Nancy.

    • #21
  22. She Reagan
    She
    @She

    Ontheleftcoast (View Comment):

    There’s a passage in Bugles and a Tiger in which John Masters reflects on Kipling. Masters served with The Prince of Wales’ Own 4th Gurkha Rifles on the Afghan frontier before WWII, in Mesopotamia as things were heating up, and behind Japanese lines in Burma. He was from an old Anglo-Indian family. He disliked some of the ways Kipling wrote about Indians, and yet, when his service brought him to a part of India he hadn’t yet been to, it seemed very familiar to him. It dawned on him that he was in Mowgli country—the Seeonee Hills; he knew that for that to be possible, Kipling had to have been writing from love.

    Masters’ own writing about India has been the subject of similar controversy. His novels range from decent to excellent, his memoirs are superb.

    Thanks. I’ve added this to my reading list.

    • #22
  23. She Reagan
    She
    @She

    Basil Fawlty (View Comment):

    An' the dawn comes up like thunder outer China 'crost the Bay! 

    I saw the dawn come up like thunder outer China ‘crost the bay a few times. Well, close enough.

    The poem was turned into a popular song by the American composer Oley Speaks (in about 1900, I believe), and when I was a child, it was still very well-known, and a group of Brits anywhere in the world could conjure up a singalong without too much difficulty just by bellowing out, even remotely tunefully, OOOOOOOOOONNNNNNN the road to Mandalay-ay!”

    Frank Sinatra attempted it (not one of his more felicitous efforts, I’ve always thought) in the late 1950s but the versions I remember and which always bring a smile to my face, and with it, memories of worlds I have lost, are ones like this:

     

     

     

    • #23
  24. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    She: These days, it’s fashionable to criticize, or even cancel, Kipling for his supposedly “racist” views, and because he expressed them in the decades before I was born, in a different time and in a different world.

    Well, that “racist” wrote the following in The Ballad of East and West:

    Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
    Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment Seat;
    But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
    When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth!

    Gee – race and birth do not matter. Rather character does.

    Or in Gunga Din:

    Now in Injia’s sunny clime,
    Where I used to spend my time
    A-servin’ of ‘Er Majesty the Queen,
    Of all them blackfaced crew
    The finest man I knew
    Was our regimental bhisti, Gunga Din.

    and 

    Though I’ve belted you and flayed you,
    By the livin’ Gawd that made you,
    You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din!

    Again character matters more than race.

    Or in The Mother-Lodge

    I wish that I might see them,
    My Brethren black an’ brown,
    With the trichies smellin’ pleasant
    An’ the hog-darn passin’ down; [Cigar-lighter.]
    An’ the old khansamah snorin’ [Butler.]
    On the bottle-khana floor, [Pantry.]
    Like a Master in good standing
    With my Mother-Lodge once more!

    Outside — “Sergeant! Sir! Salute! Salaam!”
    Inside — “Brother”, an’ it doesn’t do no ‘arm.
    We met upon the Level an’ we parted on the Square,
    An’ I was Junior Deacon in my Mother-Lodge out there!

    Doesn’t sound like the sentiments of a man who judges people by the color of their skin, does it.

    • #24
  25. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    More remarkable is the poem “The Hymn of Breaking Strain,” which he wrote a year before his death. I hope I can write one-half as well when I am that age.

    Hymn of Breaking Strain
    1935
    THE careful text-books measure
    (Let all who build beware!)
    The load, the shock, the pressure
    Material can bear.
    So, when the buckled girder
    Lets down the grinding span,
    ‘The blame of loss, or murder,
    Is laid upon the man.
    Not on the Stuff – the Man!

    But in our daily dealing
    With stone and steel, we find

    The Gods have no such feeling
    Of justice toward mankind.
    To no set gauge they make us-
    For no laid course prepare-
    And presently o’ertake us
    With loads we cannot bear:
    Too merciless to bear.

    The prudent text-books give it
    In tables at the end
    ‘The stress that shears a rivet
    Or makes a tie-bar bend-
    ‘What traffic wrecks macadam-
    What concrete should endure-
    but we, poor Sons of Adam
    Have no such literature,
    To warn us or make sure!

    We hold all Earth to plunder –
    All Time and Space as well-
    Too wonder-stale to wonder
    At each new miracle;
    Till, in the mid-illusion
    Of Godhead ‘neath our hand,
    Falls multiple confusion
    On all we did or planned-
    The mighty works we planned.

    We only of Creation
    (0h, luckier bridge and rail)
    Abide the twin damnation-
    To fail and know we fail.
    Yet we – by which sole token
    We know we once were Gods-
    Take shame in being broken
    However great the odds-
    The burden or the Odds.

    Oh, veiled and secret Power
    Whose paths we seek in vain,
    Be with us in our hour
    Of overthrow and pain;
    That we – by which sure token
    We know Thy ways are true –
    In spite of being broken,
    Because of being broken
    May rise and build anew
    Stand up and build anew.

    • #25
  26. She Reagan
    She
    @She

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    She: These days, it’s fashionable to criticize, or even cancel, Kipling for his supposedly “racist” views, and because he expressed them in the decades before I was born, in a different time and in a different world.

    Well, that “racist” wrote the following in The Ballad of East and West:

    Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
    Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment Seat;
    But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
    When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth!

    Gee – race and birth do not matter. Rather character does.

    Or in Gunga Din:

    Now in Injia’s sunny clime,
    Where I used to spend my time
    A-servin’ of ‘Er Majesty the Queen,
    Of all them blackfaced crew
    The finest man I knew
    Was our regimental bhisti, Gunga Din.

    and

    Though I’ve belted you and flayed you,
    By the livin’ Gawd that made you,
    You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din!

    Again character matters more than race.

    Or in The Mother-Lodge

    I wish that I might see them,
    My Brethren black an’ brown,
    With the trichies smellin’ pleasant
    An’ the hog-darn passin’ down; [Cigar-lighter.]
    An’ the old khansamah snorin’ [Butler.]
    On the bottle-khana floor, [Pantry.]
    Like a Master in good standing
    With my Mother-Lodge once more!

    Outside — “Sergeant! Sir! Salute! Salaam!”
    Inside — “Brother”, an’ it doesn’t do no ‘arm.
    We met upon the Level an’ we parted on the Square,
    An’ I was Junior Deacon in my Mother-Lodge out there!

    Doesn’t sound like the sentiments of a man who judges people by the color of their skin, does it.

    Bingo.

    He also wrote a pretty good paean to traditional womanhood, never once mistaking it for subservience or weakness:

     She who faces Death by torture for each life beneath her breast
     May not deal in doubt or pity—must not swerve for fact or jest.
     These be purely male diversions—not in these her honour dwells—
     She the Other Law we live by, is that Law and nothing else.

    So it comes that Man, the coward, when he gathers to confer
    With his fellow-braves in council, dare not leave a place for her
    Where, at war with Life and Conscience, he uplifts his erring hands
    To some God of Abstract Justice—which no woman understands.

    And Man knows it! Knows, moreover, that the Woman that God gave him
    Must command but may not govern—shall enthral but not enslave him.
    And She knows, because She warns him, and Her instincts never fail,
    That the Female of Her Species is more deadly than the Male.

    • #26
  27. Basil Fawlty Member
    Basil Fawlty
    @BasilFawlty

    She (View Comment):

    Basil Fawlty (View Comment):

    An' the dawn comes up like thunder outer China 'crost the Bay!

    I saw the dawn come up like thunder outer China ‘crost the bay a few times. Well, close enough.

    The poem was turned into a popular song by the American composer Oley Speaks (in about 1900, I believe), and when I was a child, it was still very well-known, and a group of Brits anywhere in the world could conjure up a singalong without too much difficulty just by bellowing out, even remotely tunefully, OOOOOOOOOONNNNNNN the road to Mandalay-ay!”

    Frank Sinatra attempted it (not one of his more felicitous efforts, I’ve always thought) in the late 1950s but the versions I remember and which always bring a smile to my face, and with it, memories of worlds I have lost, are ones like this:

    I credit Mark Steyn for my admiration of this poem. Even though it’s geographically challenged in context, “The dawn comes up like thunder” is wonderful imagery.

    • #27
  28. She Reagan
    She
    @She

    I don’t think many people read it these days, but Puck of Pook’s Hill is a wonderful collection of imaginative and fantastical stories and poetry written for children (of all ages, methinks) about episodes in British history. It’s available online, but IMHO benefits from the hard-copy book and illustrations.

    • #28
  29. Michael Powell Coolidge
    Michael Powell
    @Michael Powell

    I’m familiar with this poem. Guess where I first saw it?

    • #29
  30. Dennis A. Garcia (formerly Gai… Member
    Dennis A. Garcia (formerly Gai…
    @Gaius

    I love Kipling though I haven’t read all of his work.

    I’ve always had mixed feelings about the subgenre of books that borrow characters and settings from great works of literature or somehow retell their stories from a different angle. But I’ve had the idea stuck in my head since reading Kim of a novel following a middle aged Kimball O’Hara from the end of WWII into the 60s.

    How does a character whose identity is so thoroughly wrapped up in British India deal with independence, partition and break up of the empire, not to mention the cold war? I don’t know, but I want to.

    Even as pulp, forgetting great literature, Kipling set up the adult Kim to be a far more interesting secret agent than anything Ian Fleming ever came up with.

    If I could reincarnate one author and commission a work that would be it.

     

    • #30