Thursday, 11 July 2013

A little bit of Kipling does you good.

The following poem was brought to my attention by that prolific wargamer and blogger Bluebear Jeff ... and I liked it so much that I thought that it deserved a somewhat larger audience.

"A Code of Morals"

Lest you should think this story true
I merely mention I
Evolved it lately. 'Tis a most
Unmitigated misstatement.

Now Jones had left his new-wed bride to keep his house in order,
And hied away to the Hurrum Hills above the Afghan border,
To sit on a rock with a heliograph; but ere he left he taught
His wife the working of the Code that sets the miles at naught.

And Love had made him very sage, as Nature made her fair;
So Cupid and Apollo linked , per heliograph, the pair.
At dawn, across the Hurrum Hills, he flashed her counsel wise –
At e'en, the dying sunset bore her husband's homilies.

He warned her 'gainst seductive youths in scarlet clad and gold,
As much as 'gainst the blandishments paternal of the old;
But kept his gravest warnings for (hereby the ditty hangs)
That snowy-haired Lothario, Lieutenant-General Bangs.

'When they beheld a heliograph tempestuously at play.
They thought of Border risings, and of stations sacked and burnt –
So stopped to take the message down – and this is what they learnt –
T'was General Bangs, with Aide and Staff, who tittupped on the way.

"Dash dot dot, dot, dot dash, dot dash dot" twice. The General swore.
"Was ever General Officer addressed as 'dear' before?
"'My Love,' i' faith! 'My Duck,' Gadzooks! 'My darling popsy-wop!'
"Spirit of great Lord Wolseley, who is on that mountain top?"

The artless Aide-de-camp was mute, the gilded Staff were still,
As, dumb with pent-up mirth, they booked that message from the hill;
For clear as summer lightning-flare, the husband's warning ran: –
"Don't dance or ride with General Bangs – a most immoral man."

[At dawn, across the Hurrum Hills, he flashed her counsel wise –
But, howsoever Love be blind, the world at large hath eyes.]
With damnatory dot and dash he heliographed his wife
Some interesting details of the General's private life.

The artless Aide-de-camp was mute, the shining Staff were still,
And red and ever redder grew the General's shaven gill.
And this is what he said at last (his feelings matter not): –
"I think we've tapped a private line. Hi! Threes about there! Trot!"

All honour unto Bangs, for ne'er did Jones thereafter know
By word or act official who read off that helio.
But the tale is on the Frontier, and from Michni to Mooltan
They know the worthy General as "that most immoral man."

First printed in Civil and Military Gazette, April 6th, 1886

My own favourite poem is the following one ... for many, many reasons.

"The Widow at Windsor"

'Ave you 'eard o' the Widow at Windsor
With a hairy gold crown on 'er 'ead?
She 'as ships on the foam – she 'as millions at 'ome,
An' she pays us poor beggars in red.
(Ow, poor beggars in red!)
There's 'er nick on the cavalry 'orses,
There's 'er mark on the medical stores –
An' 'er troopers you'll find with a fair wind be'ind
That takes us to various wars.
(Poor beggars! – barbarious wars!)
Then 'ere's to the Widow at Windsor,
An' 'ere's to the stores an' the guns,
The men an' the 'orses what makes up the forces
O' Missis Victorier's sons.
(Poor beggars! Victorier's sons!)

Walk wide o' the Widow at Windsor,
For 'alf o' Creation she owns:
We 'ave bought 'er the same with the sword an' the flame,
An' we've salted it down with our bones.
(Poor beggars! – it's blue with our bones!)
Hands off o' the sons o' the Widow,
Hands off o' the goods in 'er shop,
For the Kings must come down an' the Emperors frown
When the Widow at Windsor says "Stop"!
(Poor beggars! – we're sent to say "Stop"!)
Then 'ere's to the Lodge o' the Widow,
From the Pole to the Tropics it runs –
To the Lodge that we tile with the rank an' the file,
An' open in form with the guns.
(Poor beggars! – it's always they guns!)

We 'ave 'eard o' the Widow at Windsor,
It's safest to let 'er alone:
For 'er sentries we stand by the sea an' the land
Wherever the bugles are blown.
(Poor beggars! – an' don't we get blown!)
Take 'old o' the Wings o' the Mornin',
An' flop round the earth till you're dead;
But you won't get away from the tune that they play
To the bloomin' old rag over'ead.
(Poor beggars! – it's 'ot over'ead!)
Then 'ere's to the sons o' the Widow,
Wherever, 'owever they roam.
'Ere's all they desire, an' if they require
A speedy return to their 'ome.
(Poor beggars! – they'll never see 'ome!)

First published in Barrack-Room Ballads, 1892

11 comments:

  1. Anyone at all interested in Colonial gaming NEEDS to read Kipling . . . both his poetry and prose.


    -- Jeff

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  2. As good as the Colonial poems and songs are, they still aren't his best :)

    Its hard to pick one but this rates high and inspired a great series of books:
    http://www.kipling.org.uk/poems_romancenturion.htm

    -Ross

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  3. Ross Mac,

    I may beg to differ with you over this ... but the poem you refer to is a good one!

    All the best,

    Bob

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  4. Kipling has been accused of being a rabid imperialist, yet I can't help feeling, from the poems and stories he has written, that such an accusation demands considerable qualification.

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  5. Archduke Piccolo,

    Interestingly Kipling's 'racism' was discussed at some length in the Q&A session after my recent talk, and the general conclusion was that he may appear racist by modern standards BUT that when seen in context with what was being written by his contemporaries, he was very forward thinking and liberal.

    When one considers the casual anti-Semitic and generally racist language and attitudes that were commonly seen and heard well into the 1960s and 1970s in the UK, Kipling seems very 'tame' at times.

    Times change and so do people ... but it is sometimes a good idea to remind ourselves how recent those changes may have taken place.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  6. I just used "If" in teaching an English class, this past week. Kipling has always been favored by me. As far as the accusations of imperialism and racism against him, I am inclined to believe he was a far better man than his accusers.

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  7. Justin Penwith,

    'If' is a great poem that makes one think about the way one should live one's life.

    As to Kipling's alleged racism ... well I tend to agree with you, and when one compares his work with that of many of his contemporaries, he is positively liberal and forward-thinking.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  8. I have always been partial to tommy
    http://www.kipling.org.uk/poems_tommy.htm but as a statement bout politicians rather than soldiers.

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  9. Pat G,

    Funnily enough, it was one of the Kipling poems that was discussed in the Q&A session after the talk ... along with THE YOUNG BRITISH SOLDIER, which includes the famous lines:
    'When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains,
    And the women come out to cut up what remains,
    Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
    An' go to your Gawd like a soldier
    '.

    One is tempted to ask if any of the political leaders in the US or UK ever read or even know of that poem. If they had, they might just have decided that certain places in the world were not good places to fight low-intensity wars.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  10. Pat G,

    It has always been one of my all-time favourite poems, and I agree that it is an indictment of the attitude of politicians - and the general public - to the Army's rank-and-file during periods of peace.

    The poem was discussed during the Q&A session after my talk, and it was suggested that a copy be sent to all MPs to 'remind' them that the debt we owe to our service personnel does not go away once the fighting has stopped.

    All the best,

    Bob

    PS. I hope to expand on this point in a blog entry sometime soon.

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