The importance of the work of Kipling
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Published: Mon, 11 May 2015
Good morning ladies and gentlemen. I am honoured to have come here today as a keynote speaker to present to you the new poetry anthology, titled ?The Spirit of the Ages?. As many of you ask, what is this anthology about, and what does it have to do with the spirit of the ages? To address that question, I have picked a poet, Rudyard Kipling, and his poem ?The White Man?s Burden? as an example to discuss the significance of their inclusion of this anthology.
To understand the importance of the work of Kipling, we must first understand the world that he lived in, that he captured the very essence of his age in. He was born in India in 1865 during the British Empire. Although he was educated in England, he considered himself an ?Anglo-Indian?, a term for those born in India under British rule. This type of imperialism, confusion of identity and national allegiance would become prominent motifs in his poetry. During his life, Britain was unchallenged in massing countries under the British Empire, and evident in Kipling?s poems, his belief was that it was the empires? duty to act as a global law force. Kipling?s only son died during 1915, during the early stages of World War One. This tragedy in his life led him to write revolutionary poetry based on his ideologies, not based on the glory and honour of war, which was trend, but about the common soldiers in trenches fighting for survival, depicting the reality of war.
The chosen poem, ?The White Man?s Burden? is an excellent example of how Kipling takes a snapshot of his time and instills it into future generations. Although many will find the racial prejudice repugnant, be aware that during the late 19th century this was considered the social norm. This poem in itself can be considered an artifact for which we can relate to the social, emotional and personal reflections of Kipling, by gaining an insight into his world.
The poem was the original poem Kipling planned to write for Queen Victoria?s Diamond Jubilee, however was substituted with another poem, ?Recessional?. Instead, with the subtitle ?The United States and the Philipine Islands?, it was published in 1899 in American magazine McClure?s as a response to the American controlled Philipines which were taken after the Spanish-American War. The poem was Kipling?s warning that likened imperialism to an unsupported goldmine, able to gain many riches, but at the same instant could collapse and destroy many. This controversial poem lit the fuse of the debate of whether the Empire was beneficial or not.
The poem?s title was embraced by the colonists in America, and ?The White Man?s Burden? almost became a slogan. They decided to ignore the warnings of Kipling blatantly transcribed in the poem, and instead it became a near anthem for those who wished to justify imperialism. The title was also a common phrase in everyday use, for example, an advert titled ?The White Man?s Poem?, no doubt inspired from the poem itself, was published to be aimed at white people ?burdening? themselves to teach those of other races the importance of hygiene.
For what reasons did Kipling write the poem? Some conclude that Kipling had a very Eurocentric view of the world. This meant the style he wrote in mirrored society?s outlook on the rest of the world. Lines such as ?Your new-caught, sullen peoples/Half-devil and half-child?, showed that those of a non-European education and beliefs are thought of as insignificant savages. Along with the title, it proposes that white people have the ?burden?, a word with negative connotations, to control the lives of these ?simpletons? and teach them the ?proper? ethnic and cultural Western ways. Since the debut of the poem, the term ?the white man?s burden? has been interpreted as a racist phrase. It shows the prevailing ?philanthropic view? common in society in which that period the wealthy were morally obliged to assist the less fortunate in improving life to their predefined standards, regardless of if those helped needed or wanted it in the first place. This view of Kipling?s poem certainly explained the dominant mindset which allowed colonialism at that time to flourish.
An opposing view of this is the argument that Kipling?s writing was satirical. Kipling did have a history of writing satire. The book – A companion to Victorian Poetry – states: ?imperial sensibilities with wry irony and skepticism, viewing all human endeavors as ultimately transitory?. There is much evidence present in the poem to suggest so. Seemingly, conditions to make our race content have not changed from the 19th century to the 21st. ?Take up the White Man’s burden/And reap his old reward/The blame of those ye better/The hate of those ye guard/The cry of hosts ye humour?, showing that by capturing and enslaving them, the colonists are forcing the natives to face the hate, cruelty and loneliness that comes with Western society. The white man?s burden is this time used as a reflection on the burden of being a white man, rather than the white man?s obligation to teach those who are not white. This interpretation is of Kipling sighing about the complexity of being white and would rather prefer to be a part of a simpler society.
Perhaps both interpretations are right. For one, the horrors and pains that intruded into those within the colony?s lives are written down for all to see. Nevertheless, Kipling was regarded as a very pro-imperialist believer, but amazingly was not ignorant of the ugly side of imperialism?s twin headed face. Writer John Derbyshire described Kipling as ?an imperialist utterly without illusions about what being an imperialist actually means. This, in some ways, means that he was not really an imperialist at all.? Only with this reverent belief of imperialism, yet a clear understanding of the shortcomings of such a concept put into reality is what makes Kipling the optimal candidate of this anthology, as he is able to simulate in our minds two century later the social, moral, and historical happenings of his time.
The spirit of ages is defined by what one?s interpretation of the spirit of the ages. To be able to reflect those feelings, thoughts, and beliefs experienced in his life in a poem is no easy feat, but Kipling has successfully done so and showed us a word painting of what it felt like to be alive at that time.
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