Kipling, Lions and Donkeys

I’ve been reading Modern English War Poetry by Tim Kendall (whose talk at the Imperial War Museum impressed me a couple of weeks ago.)

His chapter on Kipling is very good, making the striking point that some of Kipling’s (under-rated) Boer War poems foreshadow the “Lions and Donkeys” approach to the Great War. Stellenbosch, for example:

The General got his decorations thick
(The men that backed his lies could not complain),
The Staff ‘ad D.S.O.’s till we was sick,
An’ the soldier – ‘ad the work to do again!..

An’it all went into the laundry,
But it never came out in the wash,
We were sugared about by the old men
(Panicky, perishin’ old men)
That ‘amper and ‘inder and scold men
For fear of Stellenbosch!

As Kendall points out, Kipling established a model for war poets as people who tell truths about the war, especially when these go “against the grain of a dominant contemporary discourse.”

It’s a good book. I’ll post about it again when I’ve though more about what he has to say about Ted Hughes’s Great War obsession.

2 Comments

  1. Posted October 24, 2006 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

    I’ve always thought that the Barrack Room Ballads are a lot more cynical and subversive than their reputation suggests.

  2. Dan
    Posted October 25, 2006 at 8:05 am | Permalink

    Really interesting posts on Kipling George: I didn’t know the deserters poem above. On the subject of generals and their reputations, I wonder if an interesting point is the mix of positive (even heroic) representations with more satirical ones. I think that might be more typical of the Boer War-Great War period than the current tendency for demonisation. At the same time as older, seemingly stupider generals were being stellenbosched, men like French were making their popular reputations – hence With French at the Front.
    My personal favourite of the ‘preposition general preposition location’ titles is ‘Under Haig in Flanders’. Despite everything, I can’t help seeing an image of Baldrick up to his nose in mud, with Geoffrey Palmer standing on his head.


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