Silent Kipling?

There has been some discussion on the Rudyard Kipling mailing list about the not-altogether accurate portrayal in the film My Boy Jack of Kipling’s behaviour at the start of the War. The movie shows him in front of a Kitchener poster (a month before Leete had drawn the famous pointing finger design) haranguing an audience with all the vehemence of a ‘jelly-bellied flag-flapper’.
The scholars of that list have established that at the start of the War both Kipling and his wife were incapacitated by heavy colds, so speechifying would not have been on his agenda.
I did a small bit of research to see if I could discover anything about what he did during August, and discovered that the case was rather like Sherlock Holmes’s intriguing one of the dog that did not bark in the night-time.
The Manchester Guardian and the Observer certainly thought so. On August 12 there was a lively piece in the MG, making mild fun of the spate of patriotic poetry appearing in The Times:

The ‘Times’ is publishing such a great deal of national and patriotic verse just at present that perhaps some of the eminent writers who are producing it each morning have not had very much time to give to its composition.

The article goes on to have a certain amount of fun at the expense of Laurence Binyon, who had committed the clumsy rhyme of ‘iron’ and ‘desire on’ – but it finishes with this:

Another interesting question, by the way, that arises out of war poems is – What has become of Mr Kipling?

The Observer of August 23rd took up the theme:

Mr Kipling’s poem (we are agreed that there must be one) has not yet appeared; and perhaps it will be none the worse for being some time on the stocks. A good deal of the verse which has seen the light bears obvious traces of haste; and none of it has been on the proper scale for so tremendous an event. Mr Kipling has recently been so confirmed a disparager of modern England that it may well take him some little time to readjust his point of view.

For a month Kipling seems to have been silent, though the celebrated actor Lewis Waller was at the Empire, Leicester Square reciting his poems, including morale-boosters like If, but also Snarleyow, a description of war at its grimmest and least glamorous:

‘E ‘adn’t ‘ardly spoke the word, before a droppin’ shell
A little right the batt’ry an’ between the sections fell;
An’ when the smoke ‘ad cleared away, before the limber wheels,
There lay the Driver’s Brother with ‘is ‘ead between ‘is ‘eels.

Then sez the Driver’s Brother, an’ ‘is words was very plain,
“For Gawd’s own sake get over me, an’ put me out o’ pain.”
They saw ‘is wounds was mortial, an’ they judged that it was best,
So they took an’ drove the limber straight across ‘is back an’ chest.

The Driver ‘e give nothin’ ‘cept a little coughin’ grunt,
But ‘e swung ‘is ‘orses ‘andsome when it came to “Action Front!”
An’ if one wheel was juicy, you may lay your Monday head
‘Twas juicier for the niggers when the case begun to spread.

The moril of this story, it is plainly to be seen:
You ‘avn’t got no families when servin’ of the Queen —
You ‘avn’t got no brothers, fathers, sisters, wives, or sons —
If you want to win your battles take an’ work your bloomin’ guns!

It was not until the beginning of September that Kipling published a poem defining his total commitment to the War. “For All We Have and Are” is a masterpiece of rhetoric, whose lines were immediately taken up by politicians (Lord Plymouth, whose son had been among the first casualties of the War, made a big impact by quoting ‘Who dies if England lives?’ at a political meeting.)

A month is not a very long time for a poet, and journalists, working to tight deadlines, are impatient, but I wonder what Kipling was doing during that month. This was a War that he had been warning his countrymen about. Should his first major statement simply endorse the government, or should he curse it for having got the country into this mess (since his argument was that a tougher British military policy earlier would have deterred Germany)?

I’d guess that his mind was made up by the reports of atrocities coming from Belgium. The emphasis on ‘the children’ is a link with Swept and Garnished a story in which he dramatises the horror of what the Germans had done in Belgium.
As for disparagement of modern England, the poem contains the lines:

Our world has passed away
In wantonness o’erthrown.

This seems to be saying that the pre-War nation has been wanton, that this wantonness has produced the War, but that the War has now made pre-War attitudes unsustainable. In other words, this is Kipling’s own version of the ‘fortunate war’ theory. H.G.Wells thought the War would be a good thing because it would sweep away old-fashioned ways. Ian Hay presented it as a positive force bringing Glasgow Trades Unionists into line. Kipling sees it as a reality-check that will direct Britain away from the paths of wantonness, and force Britons to ‘face the naked days/ In silent fortitude’.

Here is the whole poem:

For All We Have and Are

For all we have and are,
For all our children’s fate,
Stand up and meet the war.
The Hun is at the gate!
Our world has passed away
In wantonness o’erthrown.
There is nothing left to-day
But steel and fire and stone.

Though all we knew depart,
The old commandments stand:
“In courage keep your heart,
In strength lift up your hand.”

Once more we hear the word
That sickened earth of old:
“No law except the sword
Unsheathed and uncontrolled,”
Once more it knits mankind,
Once more the nations go
To meet and break and bind
A crazed and driven foe.

Comfort, content, delight —
The ages’ slow-bought gain —
They shrivelled in a night,
Only ourselves remain
To face the naked days
In silent fortitude,
Through perils and dismays
Renewed and re-renewed.

Though all we made depart,
The old commandments stand:
“In patience keep your heart,
In strength lift up your hand.”

No easy hopes or lies
Shall bring us to our goal,
But iron sacrifice
Of body, will, and soul.
There is but one task for all —
For each one life to give.
Who stands if freedom fall?
Who dies if England live?


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