Rudyard Kipling's Verse, Inclusive Edition, 1885-1918
Garden City, New York: Doubleday, Page and Company, 1919. 8vo, xiv+783 pp. $5.00.
WHEN Ben Jonson in 1616 collected and printed what he did not hesitate to call his ‘Works,’ he placed the cap-sheaf on his towering reputation as an egotist, and was not left for long in ignorance of the fact. Times have changed since then. And with poems like Kipling’s, which have been scattered through a score of books over a period of three and a half decades, with the result that, the poem which one wanted was invariably in the volume which was not at hand, a collected edition under a single cover becomes a boon. And the fact that the volume of 783 pages is modestly entitled ’Rudyard Kipling’s Verse,’ instead of ’The Poetical Works of Rudyard Kipling.’ is not without significance.
Into the implications of that large distinction between verse and poetry this is not the place to go. One can rule out Rudyard Kipling as a poet only’ by revising one’s ideas of poetry. And the volume before us emphazises anew the fact that in poetry there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit; or, to turn from the Bible to Kipling himself, that poets, like the rest of us, sit ‘each in his separate star.’ There is, moreover, on excellent authority, one glory of the sun and another of the moon — one glory of Rudyard Kipling and another glory of John Keats — and one star differeth from another star in glory. What Kipling gives, then, is more important to determine than what he fails to give. Both count, but the universe is large, and the things which any given poet does not do are criticism’s easy mark. The point of immediate moment is his positive offering.
Kipling is first and foremost the poet of men. and movements, and things. He is never— to violate at once the principle just laid down—
. . . deep and slow, exhausting thought,
And hiving wisdom with each studious year:
And hiving wisdom with each studious year:
his characteristic moods are as remote from meditation as from lyric rapture; l’art pour l’art is apparently to him ’the abomination of desolation standing where it ought not,’ that it was to Tennyson. His aim is rather to draw the thing as he sees it. and preferably, in so doing, to
Splash at a ten-league canvas with brushes of comets’ hair.
Imperial policies; the eternal paradox of the meeting of an East and a West that can never meet, and the actions of men in the grip of the forces and the passions born of the clash; trails and trade-routes by land and sea — Wanderlust and the lust of power; everything in the world that calls with voices; dawns that come up like thunder, and the thresh of the deep-sea rain; profoundly’ imaginative recognitions of the brute in man and of man in the brute, touched often with wise, or whimsical, or ironic humor; machinery somehow alive with the life that went into its making; ancient roads and barrows and wolds instinct with mysterious effluences of a Past that cannot die — these and their like are the themes which recur and interweave, sometimes crudely and even garishly, sometimes with puissant creative energy, through the kaleidoscopic pages of the book.
And the upshot of one’s impression is this: The things that Kipling has done best are the things which no one else has done so well, and some of them are things which have never before been done by anyone. The mass of verses which have linked their fortunes with imperial policies will no doubt soon enough join the innumerable caravan of occasional pieces which, since occasions were, have done their allotted stage and been swallowed up in the deserts of oblivion. A facility which is sometimes fatal, and a fondness for rhythms so contagious that they are hackneyed through imitation before their year is out, will also take their toll. But when all abatements are made, — and they are probably no larger than the discounts to be reckoned against Wordsworth, and Coleridge, and Byron, and Shelley and Swinburne, — there remains a body of verse which, for magnificent directness, for its use of those ‘words which are things’ that Byron believed in but declared he never found, for its vivida vis, will stand, one may safely prophesy, among the permanent holdings of English poetry.
J. L. L.