The Spike: or, Victoria College Review, October 1913
Rudyard Kipling, Poet
Rudyard Kipling, Poet.
As Rhodes is the Builder, so is Kipling the Singer of Empire. Each in his separate sphere is an alchemist, transmuting Britain's national pride into an Imperial spirit. Far in the unknown wastes of South Africa, Rhodes experimented with his Imperial laboratory, while from the outposts of India came Kipling's siren call to the Men of England, interpreting the vague yearnings beyond the skyline,—the dim voice of a new-born world,—and transfusing them into burning verse. The key of his message,—the ovum from which the whole organism is developed,—is the spirit of Force and Courage and Law. He discovered the Spirit of the Army, where it was articulate, and his message of the Army is of Discipline and Courage and Strength. He discovered the Spirit of India as that huge mass was being levered into its place in the disposition of things, and his message is of the transition from the old order to the new. His picture is of the unknown, a world swarming with wild deeds and the reckless passion of Oriental "abandon," a woof shot with colour and strife his song is of swift joy and headlong death, and of the Old Gods lurking in the shadows where the new Sun has not yet pierced. He discovered the spirit of Empire, and to its page 41 law and organisation he bowed in thrall. He sang, and "the words of Ins mouth were as slaves spreading carpets of glory." He sang, and the glory of Empire was woven into the mesh of English poetry by one who "knew and touched it in the ends of all the earth." He discovered the power and aim of life. He found that the Universe is a well ordered purposeful structure the ships and the great machines are its symbols Man, the Maker, is the instrument Man is governed by the Law of Service and the Philosophy of the Group; and Humanity is an army marching down the avenues of Time. The outstanding characteristic of his poetry is his expression of the bolder spirit of the age. Where the older poets drifted towards provincialism and effeminacy, Kipling boldly sounds the full note of manly life and power. This new spirit, the call beyond the horizon and the wild world dreams are as threads caught up and subtly weft into the texture of his verse. His expression of it is impressionistic and mystical. He sees strange things, dreams strange dreams, and catches fugitive impressions. As the most vivid impression of the thunderstorm is conveyed by the sullen spattering of the first big drops, so Kipling, with all the power of his infallible verse craft, suggests in a few words a sense of laughter or anger or imminent peril. Time and space are the playthings of his masculine and creative imagination. His ideas do not emanate from colour tubes they are thunderbolts forged in the mind of a master, and hurled into a dazzled world. Yet of all the weapons in the armoury of style, the sharpest is the rapier of cynicism. It is not the deprecatory cynicism of the flaneur, mocking the futility of effort, but the real, heated cynicism of the purposeful man, with a huge threat of hate and anger lurking behind.
Not a few critics, with every claim to our respect, deride Kipling's claim to be termed a poet. Those who exalt refinement of language, however, would do well to reflect that language is a vehicle not only of thought, but of sentiment, and that the true sentiments of the underworld can be conveyed only in the unorthodox language of the under-world. If much of his "slang" verse is coarse and brutal, and sinks to the lower strata of litera page 42 ture, a good deal more emits reality and true sentiment. His 'technical" dialect makes him the poet of trade and of the machine. For him "the eccentrics start their quarrel in the sheaves" just as the leaves flutter in the wind. Throughout his works runs the force and flow of the right word,—always concise, always striking, always right. His inspired simplicity, his antitheses and his haunting suggestion magnetise his works. His metaphors are vivid and pulsating, and his impressionistic phrases suggest more than they declare. At times his verse is a riot of alliteration and vowel music, blended into a sustained harmony. His phraseology has all the fascination of headlong daring, and his unerring ear never fails him in his most venturesome flights. He thrills us with his daring "abandon" only to fascinate us with the happy ease of his accomplishment. His daring is his charm.
In conclusion, his vision is broad, his insight is deep and subtle, and his thought is catholic and masculine. His verse is bold and ringing, and his passion of utterance finds response in our own hearts. Yet by many he is mercilessly mocked and derided for his slang and brutality. Perhaps the truth is that while some who have followed blindly have mistaken some glittering sand for gold, yet those who have stood aloof have condemned over rashly. He is a true poet, probably the greatest living poet, and the laurels of Empire are placed on his brow,—yet much that he has written may well be relegated to a merciful oblivion. From the ruck of praise and condemnation alike surges his great message. Where many poets whose names are written in the waters are lost in the mists of the world, Kipling followed a pillar of fire, and in the light of that fire he sees and knows everything. He stood by at the making of the first knife, and hurled the doom-bolt from the newest destroyer he lived in the silence of the forest and wrenched into the darkness with the Northern Mail he sang in the dim red dawn of men, and hurtled beyond the path of the outmost sun he peered into the heart of man, and saw its shallowness or depth, cowardice and courage, devotion, truth and honour, and his insight has been crystallised into thought and word so perfect as topage break page break page 43
emit lightnings. He is immortal even as the heart of man, for it is on the heart of man that his eternal message is engraved.