Kipling’s Poetic Hits (And Misses)

I know how to kipple. And I am an unabashed fan of Rudyard Kipling’s poems, most of his short stories, and some of his novels. But there are things he wrote that I dearly love and have memorized, that I turn to as touchstones, and some that make me wince, or scratch my head and wonder what he was thinking, and a few that make no sense without a great deal of knowledge of the headlines of the time when he wrote.

I’m not a Kipling specialist, so this is Alma’s own list. You might agree, disagree, or say, “Meh. Not bad but not great either.” I’m also a great fan of the late Victorian adventure story and the tales of the Great Game, so that tends to colour my preferences.

In no particular order, other than “Recessional” and “Jobson’s Amen,” because those may be my two favorites, for very different reasons.

Scene and setting poems: “Bridge Guard in the Karroo,” “Puck’s Song,” “Lichtenberg,”  “The Explorer (Something Lost Beyond the Ranges)“,  “Jobson’s Amen,” “Mandalay,” “Love Song of Har Dyal,” “The Way Through the Woods

Story poems: “The Ballad of East and West,” “Gunga Din,” “The Last Suttee,” “The Grave of the Hundred Head,” “Cain and Abel” (fighting over water is as old as time), “Jubal and Tubal Cain,” “Giffen’s Debt,” “Ford o’ Kabul River,” “A Code of Morals,” “Municipal,”

Politics and History: “Runnymede,” “Arithmetic on the Frontier,” “The Dawn Wind,” “Gods of the Copy-book Headings,” “Our Lady of the Snows,” “Song of the Dead” especially the second section (“We have fed our sea for a thousand years/And she calls us, still unfed;”), “Two Kopjes,”

Philosophy and Religion: “Buddha at Kamakura,” “When Earth’s Last Picture is Painted,” “Eddi’s service,” “Hymn before Action,” “The Last Chantey,” “Cities and Thrones and Powers,” ‘The Mother Lodge,” “Certain Maxims of Hafiz,” “The Sons of Martha,” ‘The Thousandth Man,” “In the Neolithic Age,” and “Natural Philosophy.” Note in the last one that “L.S.D.” stands for pounds, shillings, and pence, not the current association.


Misses? ‘The Red Earl,” “Russia to the Pacifists,” some of the Departmental Ditties, “The City of Brass” because it is too topical, the one about the goat, the stone and the tarn, his verse plays.

Welcome, Instapundit readers! Thank you for visiting. It’s wonderful to see other Kipling fans.

29 thoughts on “Kipling’s Poetic Hits (And Misses)

  1. When I was still in the Army, I took a paperback of “Essential Kipling” with me on every deployment. I also learned to take a dozen copies of “The White Man’s Burden” to hand out when somebody would ask why we were there in some forsaken part of the world, trying to help people who hated us.

    His good poems are so very good, his bad ones quite rotten. Very hit or miss for me.

  2. I like to compare Rudyard Kipling’s life and works with those of Robert Service. It’s an interesting juxtaposition. They were contemporaries, of course.

    • You can add A. B. “Banjo” Patterson. “Brumbie’s Run,” “The Man from Snowy River,” “The Drover’s Horse,” and many others.

  3. Read a number of Kipling’s things over the years, usually as passdown/trades from the rolling library in the mess. Agree with McChuck, Essential Kipling was probably the best of the lot.

  4. Poetry is an aural art. It often falls flat on the page. Here is the only example I have ever found of Kipling set to music:

    • English folk singer Peter Bellamy set at least 4 albums worth of Kipling poems to music. He fit them to traditional English folk or music halls melodies and they work like a charm. Just go to Amazon and look up Peter Bellamy and you’ll recognize the titles. 2 albums of songs from Puck of Pook’s Hill and Rewards and Fairies, and one of Barrack Room Ballads, and then 8-10 others, including Recessional.

      • ….. and several of them are on YouTube. Moderator delete if copyright issues)

        I can’t find the full album Barrackroom Ballads on Youtube but it is available as a CD on Amazon or whatever.
        Here’s Gunga Din though.

  5. Best story poem by far: Mary Gloster. There are also what one might call mischief poems – The Betrothed being such.

  6. I am 86 years old, a vet of two wars. When I was eleven I was given a framed copy of Kipling’s “If”. It has stood me well and I am grateful for it.

  7. “Danny Deever” and “Tommy.” We were thrilled when our homeschooled eight-year-old recited “Danny Deever” from memory. A very dramatic poem.

  8. Perhaps I missed it, but no “If”?!!!

    Poems may be a matter of taste, but parts of “If” are spectacular and have quite probably influenced the better parts (what is left of them) of our culture.

  9. “If” is not on the list? Really? “If”? Too trite? Too predictable? Too Didactic? I would like to understand why you do not feel it worthy.

    • It’s not one of my personal favorites, probably because of early over-exposure. It meant a lot when I was much younger, but others have edged it out of the top rank for me.

      • If: When I needed it, it was there. Especially “If you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat these two impostors just the same.”.

  10. Don’t forget “The Betrothed”, which contains the immortal line:

    And a woman is only a woman, but a good cigar is a smoke.

  11. Thus the artless songs I sing
    Do not tell of anything
    New, or never gone before

    As it was in the beginning
    It is now: official sinning
    And shall be, forevermore.

  12. The two that I memorized on my own: “The Ballad of the King’s Mercy” and “The Ballad of the King’s Jest”…both read very well. I was hugely impressed with how few lines it took him to create the settings and spin the tales.

    You listed “The Mother-Lodge,” and I agree; “The Palace” is another very good Masonic-inspired one.

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