Kipling and Horace

‘Tis cold ! Heap on the logs—and let’s get tight !
The Gods can turn this world for just one night.
I will enjoy myself and be no scorner
Of any nice girl giggling in a corner.

That’s Rudyard Kipling’s compression of a twenty-four-line Ode by Horace (Book One, ix) into a quatrain. I like it a lot.

I wrote a few weeks ago about the long shelf of Kipling books in the back room of the Children’s Bookshop in Huddersfield. I went back there today, and chatted with Barry, who is the kind of bookseller who wants his books to go to a good home. He likes them to be read. Most of his Kipling stock is from the collection of J.I.M. Stewart, a notable Kipling scholar (and better known to many under his detective-writing pseudonym of Michael Innes).

I treated myself to replacement copies of A Diversity of Creatures and Many Inventions, and also bought Kipling the Poet by Peter Keating (one of my tutors at Leicester University many years ago, a very nice man and the author of that excellent book, The Haunted Study).

The discovery that really made my heart sing, though, was The Freer Verse Horace, a pamphlet produced in 1965 by Roger Lancelyn Green, ‘printed for private circulation only’. It contains the verses that Kipling wrote in the margin of his favourite copy of Horace – that’s Quintus Horatius Flaccus (65 BC – 8 BC). They are not in the usual Collected Poems (though I expect they are in the big expensive three-volume Cambridge edition published last year).
Anyway, I hadn’t seen them before.

I was especially interested in the compressed version of Horace’s elegy for Quintilius (Odes, Book I, xxiv). In my recent Kipling Journal article on ‘The Church that was at Antioch’, I discussed how ‘dearest of lives’, Serga’s words  about Valens, his dead nephew, echo Horace’s ‘Quis desiderio sit pudor aut modus/ tam cari capitis?’. I also suggested that in writing about the death of Valens, Kipling was finding a distanced way of writing about the death of his son, John at Loos.

His compressed version of this ode goes:

They pass- they pass – and all
Our cries, our tears
Achieve not their recall
Nor reach their ears.
Our lamentations leave
But one thing sure.
They perish and we grieve
And we endure!

How should we take that last word? ‘Endure’ can mean ‘keep going’, so does that last line have a hint of triumphant survival to it? It certainly seems more positive than Horace’s ending: ‘sed levius fit patientia/ quidquid corrigere est nefas’ (‘But patience makes supportable what we cannot correct.’) But ‘endure’ also means ‘suffer’. Maybe Kipling is leaving it to us to decide which is the key meaning here.

2 Comments

  1. Roger
    Posted March 27, 2016 at 12:17 am | Permalink

    Could there be a hidden intermediary between Horace and Kipling? Housman’s “Let us endure an hour and see injustice done” (A Shropshire Lad XLVIII) echoes Horace and uses “endure” in a pessimistic sense.

    • Posted March 27, 2016 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

      Kipling was an admirer of Housman’s verse, and considered the Epitaph on an Army of Mercenaries the best poem produced by the war.


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