The Latymer School History Magazine - page 36

The Woolsack
together. It’s telling that one
of his few poems to involve
humour involves laughing at
the slaughter of innocent
men. But what is even worse
is that Kipling’s joy is out of
something deeply personal
and tragic; in this case the
lone man Piet, whom Kipling
degrades with relish, even
after death. There’s no doubt
that these could only be the
words of a very hateful man.
Yet it is clear that Kipling was,
as well as incredibly hateful,
also incredibly complex. He
revelled in the native
traditions of India and
opposed repressive
traditions in Islam such as the
prevalence of the veil. Yet he
also castigated, at several
different points during his
life, the Americans, the
Germans, women, the Jews,
intellectuals, the youth, the
working class. The list goes
on and on. But Kipling
himself was an outsider. He
had no real home, instead
flitting from continent to
continent, always finding
something there to anger
him but always something to
amaze him too. And
regardless of these personal
contradictions, there is no
doubting the brilliance of his
verse. I hate to say it - even
Piet is a good poem. There is
a reason he hasn’t been
It is easy to mock and
criticise Kipling’s attitudes
now. And it is necessary to;
they were repulsive then and
they still are. But perversely,
this admission only
heightens the work of
Kipling. Underpinning his
works is a hope for a society
that is insidious but also
weirdly utopian, and its
failure, like that of socialism,
is itself a kind of tragedy. It
seems so clear now that the
days of European
colonialism were always
numbered; indeed what’s
amazing is that it lasted for as
long as it did. Alongside this,
the 20th century was
beginning to expose the
flaws that stemmed from
excessive political theory and
ambition, so stridently
during the late
1800s. But the
blatant vacuity
of Kipling’s
imperial poetry
elevates it.
Reading his
the sheer
intensity and
importance it
held to him;
you can’t help
but feel
strangely sorry
for the man.
The futility of
literature is
mirrored in the
Rhodes Memorial. It’s
overblown, it’s hubristic. But
it’s also a kind of Greek ruin;
a vision of a society so great
that its overconfidence
caused it to quickly crumble
in on itself. It is clearly a
good thing that imperialism
eventually collapsed, but the
marks it left are only
improved as a result.
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