Sunday, 3 December 2017

Mr Kipling ... writes exceedingly good poetry

On 28th November I delivered a lecture to the Hertfordshire Masters Lodge (No.4090). The title of the lecture was MASONIC REFERENCES IN THE WORKS OF KIPLING, and I was assisted by a fellow wargamer who is also a member of the Lodge.


Amongst the poetry that I referenced was one that happens to be amongst my favourite poems, THE WIDOW AT WINDSOR. Not only does it sum up the part played by Britain's armed forces during Queen Victoria's reign, it also gave us the name of what is probably the most well-known set of Colonial wargame rules.

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! – barbarous 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!)

The last verse has a particular significance to Freemasons, and those of you who are in The Craft will have noticed it. To those of you who aren't ... well it's still a great poem, isn't it?

28 comments:

  1. I have at home a volume of I think all of Kipling's poetry, with a foreword by George Orwell. I'm not sure what to make of his description of RK as a writer of 'good bad poetry'.
    But I'm inclined to think that Rudyard Kipling as a lyricist as much as a poet, and this is one of his lyrics. Has it even been put to a tune, I wonder?
    There seems to be a strong reference to the Freemasons in the sixth stanza, as well.

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    1. See http://www.kiplingsociety.co.uk/rg_music1.htm for some information. Though on a quick browse I did not notice "The Widow at Windsor" it does confirm that you are not alone in seeing the poems as lyrics!

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    2. Archduke Piccolo,

      So Orwell though that Kipling wrote 'good bad poetry'? Interesting ... and not a great surprise considering Orwell's experience of working as a policeman in Burma whilst it was part of British India.

      I think hat you are right about Kipling being more of a lyricist that full-blown poet, which is probably why so many of them ended up being set to music.

      You are right about the sixth stanza having Masonic references, but the final stanza is the Tyler's Toast almost word-for-word.

      All the best,

      Bob

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    3. Mike Hall,

      Thanks for the link. I knew some of the poems had been set to music, but not how many.

      All the best,

      Bob

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    4. I recall singing 'Road to Mandalay' at school assembly. Just the first stanza, and possibly the last, you understand, which makes the thing a nostalgia for a place, rather than a very personal memory.

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    5. Thanks, Mike Hall for the link. I never knew so many of Kipling's verses were set to music. I do remember 'Boots' form some British sitcom (Bootsie and Snudge, possibly).

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    6. Archduke Piccolo,

      Bearing in mind the subject of the main part of the poem seems to be about the singer's love for a local Burnese girl, I would have thought that it would unwise for impressionable schoolboys to sing anything other than the first and last verses!

      All the best,

      Bob

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    7. Archduke Piccolo'

      The rhythm of the poem matches the pace of each step made by a soldier during a forced march. As such it is an excellent poem or song to set the right pace for mrching men.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  2. A good poem but definitely not my favorite Kipling, though to be honest I can't currently say what my favourite is - I need to go through the complete poems again.

    Does anyone know of a good Kindle version of the complete poems as the hardback is a bit big to carry round and heavy on the hands? When I tried to find one a few years ago - including from Project Gutenberg - everything I looked at had horrible formatting and organisation making them unusable. Maybe things have changed or do I need to buckle down and do my own version?

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    1. Mike Hall,

      Most people I know cite 'IF ..' as their favourite poem. It is good, but being a Freemason and a wargamer with a preference for the Colonial period, I prefer this poem as it seems to have greater relevance for me.

      All the best,

      Bob

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    2. I definitely wouldn't have IF as my favourite. In fact I'm tempted to say that it's the favorite Kipling poem of people who've not read Kipling's poems.

      If I were to pick a famous one it would probably be something like "The Way Through the Woods" but I'm partial to things like "Arithmetic on the Frontier", "Danny Deever" and "The 'Eathen". I could go on but this list would quickly get too long and obscure!

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    3. Mike Hall,

      I suspect that you might well be right about IF!

      You have named several poems that I also enjoy reading, particularly ARITHMETIC ON THE FRONTIER.

      All the best,

      Bob

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    4. Tommy - not the best constructed perhaps but the message wins out.

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    5. Pat G,

      Agreed; it has a great message that has meaning even in today's society.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  3. One of the best collections of Kipling's poetry is Marghanita Laski's "Kiplings History" published in 1974 by the BBC - still available on the 2nd hand market which includes the poem you refer to.

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    1. David Bradley,

      Thanks for the suggestion. It sounds as if it would fit in very nicely with my collection of Kipling's work.

      All the best,

      Bob

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    2. The copy I have here is 'The Works of Rudyard Kipling, published by The Wordsworth Poetry Library 1995. What I called George Orwell's 'Foreword' is actually an essay written in 1942, which has been included by way of an introduction.

      My favourites tend to be his narrative poems, such as 'The Ballad of East and West', 'Fuzzy-Wuzzy' and 'Gunga Din' all justly popular in their time. Racist? Sure, but 'racism' is a modern term, and what we read here is not the racism of the conqueror seeking to justify his conquest.

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    3. My copy is "The Definitive Edition of Rudyard Kipling's Verse", Hodder and Stoughton, 1986, £16.95 net in UK. 845 pages plus those at the front given Roman numerals. It's size and weight is one reason I wanted a kindle version.

      In fact I spent 45p on a kindle version earlier today. Much better than the ones I looked at a few years ago but it lacks an alphabetical list of titles or an index of first lines, both of which are really needed in addition to the normal table of contents.

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    4. Archduke Piccolo,

      Kipling was a great storyteller, and I suspect that is why his narrative poems tend to be amongst his best.

      Racism is one of those terms that is very easily applied retrospectively to things like Kipling's work, but ithe literature of the period needs to be seen in terms of the time when it was written.

      All the best,

      Bob

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    5. Mike Hall,

      That is some tome you have there! I can see why the Kindle version would be so attractive a purchase.

      I agree that an alphabetical list if titles and index of first lines is extremely useful, and I used both frequently when writing my recent lecture.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  4. I think Kipling's poetry is pretty unfashionable these days and as a hardened lefty I think I'm meant to disapprove of his Imperialist legacy but actually I've always been a huge fan of both his poems and fiction! Have you been to Batemans? Fascinating place to visit.

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    1. Alastair,

      Kipling's work is certainly unfashionable these days, but my experience is that his harshest critics have rarely read much of what he wrote.

      Batemans is fascinating, and during my last visit I was able to explain to a member of staff the significance of some of the Masonic items on show.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  5. Thanks for writing this piece Bob. Kipling has had some bad press from various groups who clearly know nothing of this wonderful man. If they did they would realise just how much Kipling loved India and its peoples. They would also realise how much empathy he had with the common British soldier who had to protect the sub continent.It would be wonderful if schools brought his works back into the curriculum, but of course that will never happen.

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    1. Robbie Rodiss,

      It is much easier to be critical about someone who's work you haven't read, especially if it was written during a period of history that you don't understand.

      Perhaps like Shakespeare (much of who's work was written to gain favour in the highly politically-charged Elizabethan/Jacobean era when it was vital to praise the Tudors and later the Stuarts) it will be several more hundred years before Kipling's work can be read for what it is rather than for what it is perceived to represent.

      I totally agree that Kipling loved India, its people, and the common British soldier; it shines through in everything he writes.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  6. Many years ago my father used to go on these battlefield tours with Holts when they were lead by Major H and his wife. At the time he was writing a book on Kipling's search for his son who was lost on the western front in WWI. Having supplied said major with all sorts of information for the book about Kipling's masonic career, poetry etc, he got dad's name completely wrong in the credits. Dad always said that just about summed up the book.

    Guy

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    1. Guy,

      I'd like to think that most authors wouldn't make similar mistakes ... but having managed to spell someone's name wrong in the proof copy of my latest book (luckily it was spotted before the book was published), it is easily done.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  7. Bob, I find it striking the similarity between the photo of Kipling and your own, icon photo remarkable (hence my remark!). With a little less hair on top and chin, you might be indistinguishable.

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    1. Jonathan Freitag,

      Cheers ... although the actor David Haig, who portrayed Kipling in MY BOY JACK bears a greater resemblance to the great man than I do.

      All the best,

      Bob

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