The Corner

On Kipling: Derb Vs. Orwell

Derb, I still very much like those couple of sentences in the middle of the Orwell quotation you posted below–while the opposition gets to sit around striking poses, those in power must decide what to do–but like you I find a great deal to in Orwell’s assessment of Kipling that strikes me as mistaken.

Kipling sold out to the governing classes? He dealt in platitudes? Nonsense. Consider just one poem, Recessional. Here’s the third stanza (for the entire poem, click here):

Far-call’d our navies melt away–

One dune and headland sinks the fire–

Lo, all our pomp of yesterday

Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!

Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,

Lest we forget, lest we forget!

Kipling wrote Recessional, of course, to mark Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee, the 1897 event that found the empire at its apogee. To suggest that the empire would all turn to ashes–to suggest that even then it was all beginning to fade away–and that what truly mattered was not riches or power but (as Kipling, quoting the psalm, puts it in another stanza) “An humble and a contrite heart”– that was hardly the stand of a sycophant or peddler of platitudes.

You’ve got Kipling right, Derb, and Orwell’s got him wrong.


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