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Rudyard Kipling: The Complete Verse    by Rudyard Kipling order for
Rudyard Kipling
by Rudyard Kipling
Order:  USA  Can
Kyle Cathie, 2006 (2006)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

I used to scrounge second hand bookstores for volumes of Rudyard Kipling's poems, and no matter how many I collected, kept coming upon new ones while leafing through his novels. (I even have an audio collection somewhere, and love to listen to the rhythm of his verse - especially the military and engineering themes - that comes across so much better through the ear than through the eye.) So I was delighted to review this copy of Kipling's 'Complete Verse'.

In her Foreword, M. M. Kaye - author of The Far Pavilions and other entertaining historicals set in India - tells us of the multitude of critiques of Kipling's prose and poetry, and mentions 'a brilliant one-man play ... in which the actor portraying Kipling walks up and down a mock-up of his study ... and talks to the audience about himself and his work.' (I was lucky enough to see that play in London and enjoyed it tremendously.) I've also read the Carrington biography mentioned, and of course there are many more. Kaye summarizes Kipling's background, often relating it to his poetry, and muses on the impact of India on his life and work. She speaks of his 'divine fire' and emphasizes that 'To get the best out of Kipling's verses they should be read aloud.' She writes of his enormous admiration for the sacrifices of the common soldier, his 'great love for ships and the sea', and of his political verse - accurate predictions of WW I, in which he lost his only son, and warnings of WW II.

Delving into this 'Complete Verse' I found many familiar favorites. There's the inspired Dedication from Barrack-Room Ballads that begins 'Beyond the path of the outmost sun through utter darkness burled - / Further than ever comet flared or vagrant star-dust swirled - / Live such as fought and sailed and ruled and loved and made our world', and Recessional - 'Lest we forget - lest we forget!' There's the wonderful tribute to The Explorer, who wanders seeking 'Something hidden. Go and find it. Go and look behind the Ranges - / Something lost behind the Ranges. Lost and waiting for you. Go!', and to the ordinary soldier - 'O it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy go away" ... O it's "Thank you, Mister Atkins," when the band begins to play.' And everyone knows The Ballad of East and West - 'Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet / ... / But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth, / When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth!'

There are familiar lines subsumed into common usage, where I appreciated re-reading the entire poem and rediscovering meaning in its full context. Some are jocular, like 'a woman is only a woman, but a good cigar is a Smoke', 'the female of the species is more deadly than the male', or 'the Colonel's Lady an' Judy O'Grady / Are sisters under their skins!' Others are admiring, like 'You're a better man than I am, Gunga Din!' There's timeless wisdom in If - 'If you can keep your head when all about you / Are losing theirs and blaming it on you ...' and in 'if once you have paid him the Dane-geld / You never get rid of the Dane.' A Smuggler's Song is great fun and full of energy - 'watch the wall my darling, while the Gentlemen go by!' And you can hear the nostalgia of the exile in 'Give me back one day in England, for it's Spring in England now!'

I even found poems in this collection that were new to me. The Thousandth Man speaks to the heart - 'One man in a thousand, Solomon says, / Will stick more close than a brother. / And it's worth while seeking him half your days / If you find him before the other.' We and They seems like it's aimed at children, but all ages should be listening harder to this advice: 'All good people agree, / And all good people say, / All nice people, like Us, are We / And every one else is They: / But if you cross over the sea, / Instead of over the way, / You may end by (think of it!) looking on We / As only a sort of They!' I could keep on going with quotes from other old and new favorites, but I need to get back to reading these verses aloud - so I recommend you to get your own copy and enjoy doing the same!

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