Kipling: The Gods of the Copybook Headings

Copybooks were for handwriting practice, back in the days when handwriting mattered. A timeless gem of old wisdom was written at the top of the page in a beautiful hand, and the user of the book would copy it all the way down the page.

By 1919, when he wrote this poem, Kipling had lost his son in World War I. He had lost his faith, though he yearned for faith in something. As is clear from the language of the poem, mentioning “Social Progress,” the “brave new world,” “robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul,” the dangers of disarmament and immorality, and with the overall structure following the evolutionary narrative, the subject is the progressive movement that attempts to reduce human life to scientific, animalistic principles. The poem reminds the reader constantly that old wisdom is still wise and true even if we have lost faith in it, and the last line echoes the toll of the first two years of the Russian Revolution. For the reader in 2007, it echoes the 100 million death toll from Communism, the ultimate progressive movement for the scientific reformation of society and humanity. And it echoes in the toll of 40 million abortions in the United States since Roe vs. Wade. And finally, it echoes the threat of an even greater death toll from the Global Jihad, which in the worst case could end up with multiple American, European, and Muslim cities being attacked by nuclear weapons and a death toll better than half a billion souls.

To all of this, the God who inspired the copybook headings is the answer. Believe if you can believe. Keep trying if you can’t. Chin up old bean. Never give up. Never give in.

The Gods of the Copybook Headings
1919
Rudyard Kipling

As I pass through my incarnations in every age and race,
I make my proper prostrations to the Gods of the Market-Place.
Peering through reverent fingers I watch them flourish and fall,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings, I notice, outlast them all.

We were living in trees when they met us. They showed us each in turn
That Water would certainly wet us, as Fire would certainly burn:
But we found them lacking in Uplift, Vision and Breadth of Mind,
So we left them to teach the Gorillas while we followed the March of Mankind.

We moved as the Spirit listed. They never altered their pace,
Being neither cloud nor wind-borne like the Gods of the Market-Place.
But they always caught up with our progress, and presently word would come
That a tribe had been wiped off its icefield, or the lights had gone out in Rome.

With the Hopes that our World is built on they were utterly out of touch
They denied that the Moon was Stilton; they denied she was even Dutch
They denied that Wishes were Horses; they denied that a Pig had Wings.
So we worshipped the Gods of the Market Who promised these beautiful things.

When the Cambrian measures were forming, They promised perpetual peace.
They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.
But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe,
And the Gods of the Copybook Heading said: “Stick to the Devil you know.”

On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promised the Fuller Life
(Which started by loving our neighbour and ended by loving his wife)
Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “The Wages of Sin is Death.”

In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “If you don’t work you die.”

Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew,
And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true
That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four—
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more.

As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man—
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began —
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool’s bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire—

And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!


Trackposted to Pet’s Garden Blog, The Virtuous Republic, third world county, Right Truth, Webloggin, Stuck On Stupid, The Pink Flamingo, Leaning Straight Up, Cao’s Blog, The Amboy Times, Right Voices, Conservative Thoughts, The Yankee Sailor, and Gone Hollywood, thanks to Linkfest Haven Deluxe.

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11 responses to “Kipling: The Gods of the Copybook Headings

  1. Wonderful. And very beautiful. Thanks.

    Gerry

  2. The progressive movement attempts to remove all moral and religious aspects from human life, reducing life to its animal and chemical components. A child in the womb becomes a fetus, embryo or blastocyst. By removing God from the equation, the progressives remove not only the wisdom of the past, but the very memory of the past, condensed as it is in truthful Myth and wisdom literature. Once God is removed, hope and meaning are removed, and all that is left is metabolism and existence or its cessation. Doom, doom, destruction and doom.

    This is the nihilistic process at work, and when it is revealed it is apparent to those with eyes to see that the Emperor of Progress has no clothes.

  3. Beautiful! Thank you Wolf.

    “To all of this, the God who inspired the copybook headings is the answer. Believe if you can believe. Keep trying if you can’t. Chin up old bean. Never give up. Never give in.”

    Amen and amen.

  4. As true now as then. Great job. Reminds me of Twain’s “The War Prayer” in that we see repetition of circumstances that wounded these classic authors in earlier times and wound us again today.
    Thank You
    Geoff

  5. You have completely misinterpereted this poem.
    Kipling is mocking the “Gods of the Copybook Headings” for their idiotic universalism, just as he mocks the the “Gods of the Market Place,” (and those who consume their wares, ie. us).
    It warns AGAINST idea’s like “war against ‘global jihad,’ it denounces wars of foolish pride and ideology. You have completely missed the mark here due to your tunnelvision.
    This poem doesn’t in the least bit defend christianity or it’s principals and least of all it’s selfish righteousness.

  6. I rescind the statement that he is mocking the gods of the copybook headings, but your devotion to god and what you mistakenly interperate his lessons to be are FAR from what Kipling meant to be the universal rules, the wisdom collected by millenia of experience.

    Your zenophobia of muslims or all things “unchristian” is explicitly what Kipling is wanring against. He warns against idiotic ideology driving men into trenches and bombs (and blood on their own hands).

  7. Balthazar,

    You’re an idiot. You would do well to avoid attempting to explain things you clearly don’t understand.

  8. Balthazar needs to read up on Wretchard’s Three Conjectures to understand the apocalypse I’m talking about.

  9. Now the gods of the copybook headings are punishing us because for years we haven’t followed one simple law of nature: You can’t spend what you don’t have.

  10. Sorry, but I was looking for this poem on Google and it picked up Balthasar’s post. It wouldn’t have been New Year’s Day, 2009, without encountering one bit of ultra-idiocy on the internet, the gentleman’s second and ungrammatical post included (capitalize “God,” dumbass). “The wages of sin is death”; “the dog returns to his vomit”… Those sound pretty Biblical to me, and the copybook headings, as all or nearly all European culture at that time, explicitly religious or not, was built on Christianity. This is a profoundly conservative and Christian poem with its emphasis on consequences.

  11. Sorry, but I was looking for this poem on Google and it picked up Balthasar’s post. It wouldn’t have been New Year’s Day, 2009, without encountering one bit of ultra-idiocy on the internet, the gentleman’s second and ungrammatical post included (capitalize “God,” dumbass). “The wages of sin is death”; “the dog returns to his vomit”… Those sound pretty Biblical to me, and the copybook headings, as all or nearly all European culture at that time, explicitly religious or not, were built on Christianity. This is a profoundly conservative and Christian poem with its emphasis on consequences.