Friday, December 11, 2009

Mr. Cushing Wishes You All The Best For The Holidays Beth Bonanno photograph, December 10, 2009

Christmas In India
Rudyard Kipling, 1886

Dim dawn behind the tamarisks--the sky is saffron-yellow--
As the women in the village grind the corn,
And the parrots seek the river-side, each calling to his fellow
That the Day, the staring Eastern Day, is born.
Oh the white dust on the highway! Oh the stenches in the byway!
Oh the clammy fog that hovers over earth!
And at Home they're making merry 'neath the white and scarlet berry--
What part have India's exiles in their mirth?

Full day behind the tamarisks--the sky is blue and staring--
As the cattle crawl afield beneath the yoke,
And they bear One o'er the field-path, who is past all hope or caring,
To the ghat below the curling wreaths of smoke.
Call on Rama, going slowly, as ye bear a brother lowly--
Call on Rama--he may hear, perhaps, your voice!
With our hymn-books and our psalters we appeal to other altars,
And today we bid "good Christian men rejoice!"

High noon behind the tamarisks--the sun is hot above us--
As at Home the Christmas Day is breaking wan.
They will drink our healths at dinner--those who tell us how they love us,
And forget us till another year be gone!
Oh the toil that knows no breaking! Oh the heimweh, ceaseless, aching!
Oh the black dividing Sea and alien Plain!
Youth was cheap--wherefore we sold it. Gold was good--we hoped to hold it,
And to-day we know the fulness of our gain!

Grey dusk behind the tamarisks--the parrots fly together--
As the sun is sinking slowly over Home;
And his last ray seems to mock us shackled in a lifelong tether.
That drags us back howe'er so far we roam.
Hard her service, poor her payment--she in ancient, tattered raiment--
India, she the grim Stepmother of our kind.
If a year of life be lent her, if her temple's shrine we enter,
The door is shut--we may not look behind.

Black night behind the tamarisks--the owls begin their chorus--
As the conches from the temple scream and bray.
With the fruitless years behind us, and the hopeless years before us,
Let us honour, O my brothers, Christmas Day!
Call a truce, then, to our labours--let us feast with friends and
And be merry as the custom of our caste;
For if "faint and forced the laughter," and if sadness follow after,
We are richer by one mocking Christmas past.

*Heimweh-Ger. homesickness

This poem is commonly found online chock full of transcription errors, notably in the first stanza. "The staring Eastern Day" is inevitably presented incorrectly as "Easter Day." I have corrected these errors to the best of my ability based on the printed text in my library. This poem was originally published in Departmental Ditties and other Verses, 1886.

Quotes Of The Day

"One can, perhaps, place Kipling more satisfactorily than by juggling with the words 'verse' and 'poetry', if one describes him simply as a good bad poet. He is as a poet what Harriet Beecher Stowe was as a novelist. And the mere existence of work of this kind, which is perceived by generation after generation to be vulgar and yet goes on being read, tells one something about the age we live in."

"Although he had no direct connexion with any political party, Kipling was a Conservative, a thing that does not exist nowadays. Those who now call themselves Conservatives are either Liberals, Fascists or the accomplices of Fascists. He identified himself with the ruling power and not with the opposition. In a gifted writer this seems to us strange and even disgusting, but it did have the advantage of giving Kipling a certain grip on reality."

"Kipling sold out to the British governing class, not financially but emotionally. This warped his political judgement, for the British ruling class were not what he imagined, and it led him into abysses of folly and snobbery, but he gained a corresponding advantage from having at least tried to imagine what action and responsibility are like."

All from George Orwell's 1942 review of T.S. Eliot's A Choice of Kipling's Verse in the literary journal Horizon. This essentially (and a little surprisingly) sympathetic essay may be read HERE.

Final lines of Kipling's drinking song "The Young British Soldier" (from Barrack-Room Ballads 1892, 1896))

If your officer's dead and the sergeants look white,
Remember it's ruin to run from a fight:
So take open order, lie down, and sit tight,
And wait for supports like a soldier.
Wait, wait, wait like a soldier . . .

When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains,
And the women come out to cut up what remains,
Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
An' go to your Gawd like a soldier.
Go, go, go like a soldier,
Go, go, go like a soldier,
Go, go, go like a soldier,
So-oldier of the Queen!

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