Poem by Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)

 

Suggested by D G Moody - Thanks!




The Gods of the Copybook Headings

 

As I pass through my incarnations in every age and race,
I Make my proper prostrations to the Gods of the Market-Place.
Peering through reverent fingers I watch them flourish and fall,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings, I notice, outlast them all.

We were living in trees when they met us. They showed us each in turn
That Water would certainly wet us, as Fire would certainly burn:
But we found them lacking in Uplift, Vision and Breadth of Mind,
So we left them to teach the Gorillas while we followed the March of Mankind.

We moved as the Spirit listed. They never altered their pace,
Being neither cloud nor wind-borne like the Gods of the Market-Place.
But they always caught up with our progress, and presently word would come
That a tribe had been wiped off its icefield, or the lights had gone out in Rome.

With the Hopes that our World is built on they were utterly out of touch
They denied that the Moon was Stilton; they denied she was even Dutch
They denied that Wishes were Horses; they denied that a Pig had Wings.
So we worshipped the Gods of the Market Who promised these beautiful things.

When the Cambrian measures were forming, They promised perpetual peace.
They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.
But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe,
And the Gods of the Copybook Heading said: "Stick to the Devil you know."

On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promised the Fuller Life
(Which started by loving our neighbour and ended by loving his wife)
Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "The Wages of Sin is Death."

In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "If you don't work you die."

Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew,
And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true
That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more.

*     *     *     *     *

As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man,
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began,
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mice,
And the burnt Fool's bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire,
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!

 

 

More information on Rudyard Kipling

More information on The Gods of the Copybook Headings

 

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About Copybook Headings :  "... The "copybook headings" to which the title refers were proverbs or maxims, often drawn from sermons and scripture extolling virtue and wisdom, that were printed at the top of the pages of copybooks, special notebooks used by 19th-century British schoolchildren. The students had to copy the maxims repeatedly, by hand, down the page. The exercise was thought to serve simultaneously as a form of moral education and penmanship practice.  ..." -- excerpt from Wikipedia

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Poetry by Editorial Team The PoetBay support member heart!
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Written on 2022-02-28 at 00:00

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Griffonner The PoetBay support member heart!
lest we forget... he was a brilliant penman.
Will I ever forget the childish enjoyment of Rikki-Tikki-Tavi?
Why is it that these far thinking, imaginative, individuals are rare?
(I keep forgetting, I shouldn't generalise!)
2022-03-02


Lawrence Beck The PoetBay support member heart!
This is not smarmy jingoism. It's refreshingly bitter cynicism.
2022-02-28


D G Moody The PoetBay support member heart!
My thanks to Isabelle for posting this poem; and providing a background to the title. I find Kipling to be an intriguing writer/poet; often criticised for his jingoism, he also wrote some memorable stories and poems that have stood the test of time. This poem may not be one of them, due to the difficult title, but I feel it speaks to what we are still seeing in the world - the continuance of war, and perhaps Mr. Putin could benefit from reading it?
2022-02-28