Rudyard Kipling Pens Lest We Forget

Rudyard Kipling was born in Bombay, India, on December 30, 1865, and many of the stories for which he later became famous bear the marks of that Indian background.

His father was a teacher of arts and crafts and Rudyard was raised by a maid who taught him Hindustani as his first language. However, at age six he was taken to and left in Swansea, England for five years at a foster home. There he confronted English discipline, including beatings, for which he was ill prepared.

At age thirteen he entered United Services College to prepare him for a life of military service. This ambition was thwarted by his short-sightedness. At that time his family connections with pre-Raphaelites influenced his writing.

When he returned to India in 1882 he pursued a career in journalism, to suit his bookish interests. He wrote many short stories which were well received in England where he was hailed as a literary luminary.

“Ruddy”, as he was know in younger years, glorified the English soldier in various situations and overseas duties in the British Empire, particularly India and Burma. He wrote mostly for or about military personnel.

He also wrote wonderful stories for children, including The Jungle Book and The Second Jungle Book.

In 1892 he married Caroline Starr Balestier, the sister of an American publisher with whom he collaborated. The marriage was apparently not an ideal one, as Caroline struggled with some of his character qualities. Kipling became a more difficult man to live with after the death of his daughter when they lived in Vermont, USA.

His son, John, who also had short-sightedness, managed to get into the military, but was killed in World War One, at the Battle of Loos, at age 18.

Kipling was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907, and was the first Englishman to receive that prestigious award.

Certainly there is no Christian message in his books, although the heroes are always men of high ideals. Nor is there any indication that Kipling was ever converted. An active Freemason, he is sometimes spoken of as the Masonic Poet. His stories express a sense of Imperialism and pride in the prominence of the British Rule, as if it were by divine mandate. He did not question the quality of that rule or its implications.

But in 1897 he wrote a hymn for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee – a hymn still to be found in most hymnals and often sung on patriotic occasions:
God of our fathers, known of old,
Lord of our far-flung battle-line –
Beneath Whose awful Hand we hold
Dominion over palm and pine.
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget – lest we forget.

Australians will recognise the words “Lest We Forget”, since they are invoked each Anzac Day, April 25, in memory of Australian and New Zealand soldiers who died in battle. The hymn is most likely to be heard on Anzac Day. The words also adorn the Returned Soldiers’ League (RSL) buildings.

Rudyard Kipling died in London of a cerebral haemorrhage on January 18, 1936, aged 70. He was buried in Poet’s Corner, Westminster Abbey.

This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at: www.donaldprout.com

The Divine Right of Kings

English history plays out for us a lesson on our own condition. I’ll tease it out for you, through reflection on the Kings of England. Two competing notions of royalty played upon the English monarchy over the past millennia. One notion is that of the special rights conferred upon a king, as God’s appointee. This concept comes under the heading of ‘the divine right of kings’.

The other notion is that of the limitation of a monarch’s authority, in that he or she is not above the law.

In the middle ages the King was considered a divine appointee who ruled with God’s authority. Kings throughout history relied on the notion of their own superiority in order to maintain their position of power. In ancient Egypt, for example, Pharaoh’s were regarded as divine.

Since power corrupts, such notions of personal power tempt monarchs to overstep their bounds. In a land of powerless people a despotic monarch can do as he or she pleases. In England in the 1200’s the nation was in the hands of barons, who had large land holdings and who operated as mini kingdoms within the larger kingdom. Kings funded and staffed their activities, such as wars, through taxing the barons.

During the reign of King John many barons and church leaders resisted his heavy taxes and demands, demanding of him instead. This led to the creation and signing of the Magna Carta on June 15, 1215. King John acceded to the baron’s demands, thus making himself subject to the law. The Magna Carta effectively limits the divine right of kings to be expressed within the bounds of God’s law.

English poet, Rudyard Kipling (whose poem “If” I have used elsewhere in these posts) refers to the divine right of kings in his poem about the signing of the Magna Carta at Runnymede, 800 years ago.

“And there they launched in solid line
The first attack on Right Divine,
The curt uncompromising ‘Sign!’
They settled John at Runnymede.”
Rudyard Kipling, What Say The Reeds At Runnymede?

That was not the end of the matter. Kings continued to push the limits of their power. Thus, over 600 years after the Magna Carta, kings and queens of England continued to play their part in this running battle between privilege and obligation.

Due to a series of abuses by kings and a running religious struggle between Catholic and Protestant monarchs, King James II was overthrown in what is called the Glorious Revolution of November 1688. The English Parliament invited James’ daughter Mary and her husband William to the throne, on condition they are subject to the rule of Parliament.

This further limiting of the divine right of kings celebrated again that monarchs, even if appointed by divine mandate, are not above the law.

These historic landmarks illustrate the tension between rights and responsibilities. Privilege and obligation coexist in tension. In most aspects of our existence we must be subject to obligation in order to fully enjoy our privileges.

Marriage is an example. It affords a couple the rights and privileges of conjugal intimacy, while it also requiring both to accept the part God assigns them, in their unique role as husband or wife.

However, I digress. Where I want to go with all of this is to the point that kings do have privilege. A ruling monarch does have something akin to a divine right to their position. Yet they are not only subject to the law, as explained above, but they are unable to exercise authority over others who also share a ‘divine right’. Now, that’s where I’m going with this, but you’ll have to wait for a later post to let me take you there.

Rudyard Kipling Defines a Man

Rudyard Kipling’s poem, “If”, brandishes Kipling’s own bold definition of manhood. The poem is a powerful and strident call upon the human soul. Men and women have been stirred by it’s uncompromising standard.

Through history many Britons were inspired by Kipling’s clarion call to unswerving manhood. It is suggested that the poem, written in the early 1900’s, was inspired by Kipling’s friendship with such men as Sir Cecil Rhodes (after whom Rhodesia was named), Lord Milner and Dr Jameson. Derek Prince’s father, a military man himself, drew from the poem to inspire his young son to the stoic qualities Kipling defined.

So, let me remind you of this poem and encourage you to consider its implications for a true definition of manhood. You might like to compare Kipling’s vision of manhood with the testimony of Job, in Job 29:1-25.

“If” by: Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or, being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream — and not make dreams your master;
If you can think — and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with wornout tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on”;

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings — nor lose the common touch;
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run —
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And — which is more — you’ll be a Man my son!

Note how Kipling celebrates self-discipline here.
Mastery of the human soul gains Kipling’s adulation, where self-control is his abiding principle prize.

Yet a greater mastery transcends this worthy call.
It is not to master, but to be mastered.
Not to harness all, but to yield even more.
Not to hold oneself, but to lose oneself.
Not to excel all others, but to excel in love for others as Christ loves you.

Yes, be master of your realm.
Hold the reins in calm and meek command.
But hold them not for yourself or human purpose, but for the prize of yieldedness alone.
Hold yourself, as a servant holds his tongue and steadies his hand.
Hold yourself as a surgeon presses past duress to save the mangled life at ebb before him.
Master who and what you are, not for your father, your station or your nation – but for the one who is Master of all.

Stand before Him, without fear or shame.
Stand before Him, whether He smile or rebuke.
Stand before Him, unwavering.
So eternity is yours, and, what’s more my son, you will be a Man!

So here is “If continued” …. by Chris Field

If you can stand before the eternal throne
Unflinching in the face of God’s command
And occupy that space as if your own
And there before his searching gaze still stand;
If you can stay your heart from fear or shame
And yield yourself before His awesome will
Unflinching in the fire of holy flame
Determined to be faithful still;

If you can master self not for your own
And stay yourself – thus on the altar stay
And hold yourself for yieldedness alone
If you can live under His sceptre’s sway;
If you can find yourself, yourself to lose
Excelling in your love, as is God’s plan;
If giving all to Him is what you choose,
Eternity is yours and you’re a Man!