The Gods of the Copybook Heading

Kipling is by far my favourite poet. Richard Anderson recently posted this poem on bureaucracy, so I’m taking the opportunity to do so as well.

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!


7 responses to “The Gods of the Copybook Heading

  • Will S.

    Here’s another Rudyard Kipling poem you may find interesting:

    The Sons of Martha

    The Sons of Mary seldom bother, for they have inherited that good part;
    But the Sons of Martha favour their Mother of the careful soul and troubled heart.
    And because she lost her temper once, and because she was rude to the Lord her Guest,
    Her Sons must wait upon Mary’s Sons, world without end, reprieve, or rest.
    It is their care in all the ages to take the buffet and cushion the shock.
    It is their care that the gear engages; it is their care that the switches lock.
    It is their care that the wheels run truly; it is their care to embark and entrain,
    Tally, transport, and deliver duly the Sons of Mary by land and main.

    They say to mountains, ‘Be ye removed’. They say to the lesser floods, ‘Be dry’.
    Under their rods are the rocks reproved – they are not afraid of that which is high.
    Then do the hill-tops shake to the summit – then is the bed of the deep laid bare,
    That the Sons of Mary may overcome it, pleasantly sleeping and unaware.

    They finger death at their gloves’ end where they piece and repiece the living wires.
    He rears against the gates they tend: they feed him hungry behind their fires.
    Early at dawn, ere men see clear, they stumble into his terrible stall,
    And hale him forth like a haltered steer, and goad and turn him till evenfall.

    To these from birth is Belief forbidden; from these till death is Relief afar.
    They are concerned with matter hidden – under the earthline their altars are;
    The secret fountains to follow up, waters withdrawn to restore to the mouth,
    And gather the floods as in a cup, and pour them again at a city drouth.

    They do not preach that their God will rouse them a little before the nuts work loose.
    They do not teach that His Pity allows them to leave their work when they damn-well choose.
    As in the thronged and the lighted ways, so in the dark and the desert they stand.
    Wary and watchful all their days that their brethren’s days may be long in the land.

    Raise ye the stone or cleave the wood to make a path more fair or flat:
    Lo, it is black already with blood some Son of Martha spilled for that:
    Not as a ladder from earth to Heaven, not as a witness to any creed,
    But simple service simply given to his own kind in their common need.

    And the Sons of Mary smile and are blessed – they know the angels are on their side.
    They know in them is the Grace confessed, and for them are the Mercies multiplied.
    They sit at the Feet – they hear the Word – they see how truly the Promise Runs:
    They have cast their burden upon the Lord, and – the Lord He lays it on Martha’s Sons.

  • freebird

    “He who can burn with water and wash with fire makes a heaven out of earth and a precious earth out of heaven.” – Porta Dei Cieli

  • Free Northerner

    I like. All his poetry is great.

  • Will S.

    Oh yeah!

    I’m making a post of The Sons of Martha, for tomorrow.

  • Will S.

    In the near future, anyway.

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