Our England is a garden, and such gardens are not made
By singing: ” Oh, how beautiful,” and sitting in the shade
While better men than we go out and start their working lives
At grubbing weeds from gravel-paths with broken dinner-knives.
There’s not a pair of legs so thin, there’s not a head so thick,
There’s not a hand so weak and white, nor yet a heart so sick
But it can find some needful job that’s crying to be done,
For the Glory of the Garden glorifieth every one.
As always with Kipling the poem works at several levels. There are passages that seem to refer to today’s international situation — once gardens have been created, they need to be defended. But its main theme is the value and necessity of work. Far more than being the poet of imperialism, Kipling is the poet of work, which he sees as a combination of duty and reward. Much of his specifically imperial poetry also sounds the same chords — the imperialist is there to work for the betterment of the native peoples. That is not a very fashionable theme today, but it is undoubtedly what Kipling deeply believed — about Teddy Roosevelt’s America as much as about the British Empire. And the “glory” of the garden lies less in the final achievement than in the work of creating it.
That said, on the evidence of this poem, Kipling would also have liked the advice (passed on to me by the late Peter Bauer) about the psychology of gardening:
If you want to be happy for a day, get drunk; if you want to be happy for a month, get married; if you want to be happy for a lifetime, take up gardening.