Sunday, March 20, 2016

Kipling monostich

~ … by all things  merry,  musical,  and meet .. ~

That fragment (from a humorous and forgettable early poem, “The Plea of the Simla Dancers”, by Rudyard Kipling) here appears, merely because we are reminded, by a slight, defensive, apologetic piece  that appeared this morning at the tail-end of the (now much diminished) New York Times Book Review,
that Kipling,   when he is recalled at all,
is obnoxious to pot-shots from the politicocorrectati. 

As it happens, I am no particular fan of Kipling, one way or the other.  The title of his children’s-book, Just-So Stories, is immortal, at least among the community of science-philosophers (in particular, as regards Darwinism);  the contents of those charming tales (which I imbibed at my mother’s knee, from the very volume which she preserved from her nursery) are now less well-known;  and if known, generally not credited.  -- True, the reason that fragment is in my mind, is that I’ve been dipping into a volume on my night-table:  Rudyard Kipling: The Complete Verse.   Yet thát, for no special literary (let alone ideological) reason, but simply because (a) a copy turned up for a couple of dollars, at the neighborhood outlet for remaindered books, and (b) the poems mostly tell stories, and are fun, and are a good antidote to the rhymeless pointless drivel that has infected The New Yorker and the little-magazines, lo now  for many decades.


Borne on merely by the inertia of this,  I read the very next poem  in the collection (“As the Bell Clinks” -- again, funny  and forgettable), and notice an odd rhyme-scheme.  Long lines composed of hemistichs, chiming thus:

A     A
A     B
C     C
D     B
(repeat final line with variation, but retaining the rhyme-word, “tonga-bar”)

E     E
E     B
F     F
G     B
(repeat final line with variation, but retaining the rhyme-word, “bar”)

H     H
H     B
I     I
J     B
(repeat final line with variation, but retaining the rhyme-word, “tonga-bar”)

and so forth.

The poem goes on for quite a while;  to show the lengths to which the poet must go, to observe the

X     X
X     B

motif, consider this couplet:

Yet a further stage my goal on -- we were whirling down to Solon,
With a double lurch and roll on, best foot foremost, ganz und gar--

(and no, it doesn’t make much more sense in context.  -- That final phrase is German;  passe encore, only, it is merely metri causâ, and doesn’t otherwise especially fit.)

The point I’m sort of getting at, is:  What an incredibly impoverished literary experience would be that of anyone who approached Kipling  simply with a clip-board of Correctness Check-list Infractions (check all that apply).

To keep it in perspective -- Upon that night-table  lies one other book of verse: the Library of America edition, American Poetry: The Twentieth Century.  I purchased this some years ago, but became bogged-down in Volume One -- stuck in the mire of Ezra Pound.   Such muck as this:

Aquinas head down in a vacuum,
               Aristotle which way in a vacuum?
Sacrum, sacrum, inluminatio coitu.
Lo Sordels si fo di Mantovana
                of a castle named Goito.
“Five castles!
“Five castles!”
                (king giv’ him five castles)
“And what the hell do I know about dye-works?!”

Now, Pound (it is said) was a fascist;  but that is not why I disrelish his verse.  Kipling, it may be, “was an Imperialist” (in the words of the unthinking thoughtless), or:  dwelt at some depth, upon the upswing of History into which he was willy-nilly born;  but judge his verse  on its merits.


One thing I do appreciate in Kipling (though it surfaces but rarely)  is any echo of the old Scottish/English border ballads, with their “incremental repetition” (basic to my blood) --

  Long was the morn of slaughter,
      Long was the list of slain,
  Five score heads were taken,
       Five score heads and twain;

(compare “We hadna sailed a league, a league, A league but only three”).

Meaning:  100 slain -- nay, 102.

[To Be Continued, as time permits.]

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