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« Saturday Morning Coffee Break & Prayer Revival | Main | Saturday Gardening, Puttering and Adventure Thread, April 22 »
April 22, 2023

The Gods of the Copybook Headings -- Here and Now

Rudyard-Kipling b.jpg

Rudyard Kipling first published The Gods of the Copybook Headings in 1919, soon after the War To End All Wars. And it has been a decade since Bill Whittle slightly revised Kipling's poem "for modern ears", replacing "The Gods of the Copybook Headings" in the poem with The Gods of Wisdom and Virtue. He also replaced "The Gods of the Market Place" with The Gods of the Here and the Now.

The word choice of "The Gods of the Here and the Now" seems to me to be especially relevant to our culture and politics at the present moment. Some gods, especially the human ones, seem to fall out of favor in just a news cycle or two. Sometimes the descriptions of the non-human gods will be transformed in a news cycle or two.

Maybe kids should still be practicing penmanship with copybooks. Just a thought. How will they communicate if somebody takes down the internet?

The Kipling Society, Readers' Guide

Critical comments:

Peter Keating:

The style of the poem was similar to that used before by Kipling in "The Conundrum of the Workshops" and "In the Neolithic Age". It combined a bouncy, striding rhythm; an apparent jumble of cliches, arcane geological terms, and Biblical allusions; some flashes of surrealistic nonsense; and a clear moral.

Against the fundamental, unchanging values of life - the "Copybook Headings" which a child was expected to imbibe while learning to write - Kipling sets the transient, fashionable "Gods of the Market-Place", which can be taken to refer to both trendy attitudes and the public figures associated with them.

Notes on the Text:

[Verse 5]

Cambrian: a real geological period. Here, as Keating points out, it stands for the Welshman Lloyd George, who was Prime Minister for much of the Great War. (Cambria is the Latin name for Wales). Lloyd George was the chief British negotiator for the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 which officially ended the War. This disarmed Germany but pledged all the Great Powers to disarm themselves progressively. Kipling strongly disapproved of Lloyd George, the Liberals, and the Treaty.

There are subtle gems of wisdom in several verses of this poem. And other bits of wisdom that hit with some force. I guess I could have added links with current examples of phrases in the poem. But it's probably better for you to think of your own.

The Gods of the Copybook Headings

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 Headings 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!

Kipling knew something about terror and slaughter. He lost his son in WWI, and never found out what happened to him.

Soldiers fascinated Kipling long before WW1 - he had made his name with a poetry collection, Barrack-Room Ballads.

Kipling's son, John, was one of those keen to join the British war effort in 1914. Barred from the navy because of his poor eyesight, John was forced to use his father's connections to get a commission in the infantry, in the 2nd Battalion, Irish Guards.

He arrived in France on 17 August 1915 - his 18th birthday - and six weeks later was sent to the Battle of Loos. . .

John Kipling's body was not found.

"It is one of the great ironies that Kipling should have been the person to select the phrase 'known unto God' for all unknown soldiers, and then not know what happened to his own son," says Phillip Mallett, author of Kipling: A Literary Life.

Kipling worked with Winston Churchill to ensure that all gravestones were the same shape and size, regardless of military rank. The long lines of matching gravestones lining war cemeteries are their legacy.

* * * * *

The Gods of Wisdom and Virtue

Ready to really think about how Kipling's poem above may apply to us today? It might feel even more compelling now than it did when Bill Whittle released the video below to expand the public's awareness of the poem a decade ago.

. . . it's an important poem because it really encapsulates how and why things seem to fall apart just as they reach their zenith.

So, what and who are the Gods of the Here and the Now, at this moment?

* * * * *


I used to be 'with it.' Then they changed what 'it' was. Now, whatever I'm 'with' isn't 'it,' and what's 'with it' seems weird and scary. -- Abe Simpson

h/t Mike

* * * * *

Worship of the New

California Department of Education's list of recommended new books with which to update school offerings. No list of recommended standard books or classics seems to be available.

Comments on books studied at non-government schools down-thread.


C.S. Lewis on studying modern books alone:

Where they are true they will give us truths which we half knew already. Where they are false they will aggravate the error with which we are already dangerously ill. The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books.


Roger Scruton

"The two most potent post-war orthodoxies -- socialist politics and modernist art -- have at least one feature in common: they are both forms of snobbery, the anti-bourgeois snobbery of people convinced of their right to dictate to the common man in the name of the common man."


C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (advice from one demon to another)

The use of Fashions in thought is to distract the attention of men from their real dangers. We direct the fashionable outcry of each generation against those vices of which it is least in danger and fix its approval on the virtue nearest to that vice which we are trying to make endemic. The game is to have them all running about with fire extinguishers whenever there is a flood, and all crowding to that side of the boat which is already nearly gunwale under.


C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (more advice from one demon to another)

To regard the ancient writer as a possible source of knowledge -- to anticipate that what he said could possibly modify your thoughts or your behavior -- this would be rejected as unutterably simple-minded. And since we cannot deceive the whole human race all the time, it is most important thus to cut every generation off from all others; for where learning makes a free commerce between the ages there is always the danger that the characteristic errors of one may be corrected by the characteristic truths of another.


C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

Only the learned read old books and . . . they are of all men the least likely to acquire wisdom by doing so.

Ready to discuss a great classic book in the Book Thread tomorrow? Maybe without utilizing Deconstruction or Critical Social Justice lenses?

* * * * *

Spot the Gods of the Market Place

Watch the celebrities in the audience:


tran elmo.jpg

Hasbro Introduces New 'Transition Me Elmo' Doll

The new doll is set to coincide with Sesame Street's new push for inclusive subject matter, featuring the show's iconic characters embracing new ideas and worldviews to better train young minds to reject the most foundational concepts of science, family dynamics, and morality. "If beloved characters like Elmo, Oscar the Grouch, Big Bird, and Bert & Ernie aren't trusted to teach your children who they are and what gender and sexual roles define them as human beings, then who will?" Maltin continued.

The doll will not only offer young impressionable children the opportunity to transition Elmo to any number of genders but also play pre-recorded progressive lessons when various body parts are squeezed . .

Great examples at the link.

At publishing time, the creators of the doll were hoping to secure a guest appearance by TikTok personality Dylan Mulvaney to promote the doll on the show, since Mulvaney has become such a proven advertising commodity.


Telling a child he or she is "born in the wrong body" is one of the more sinister evils in our society. How are you going to tell a child, in all her wonder and innocence, that she was a mistake, who needs to be "fixed" with drugs. mutilation, and sterilization?
Now imagine being a disabled kid in a class, hearing people can be born in the wrong body. They hear that they might be a "mistake," but can't magically "transition" into ability/mobility. My disabled son tells me he loves his life every night -- never sending him to school!


What is a woman?

Maybe we shouldn't send our kids to Denmark, either.

* * * * *


Maybe we need a little bit of air.

Bach, Air on the G String

* * * * *

Hope you have something nice planned for this weekend.

This is the Thread before the Gardening Thread.

Serving your mid-day open thread needs

* * * * *

Last week's thread, April 15, How to be divinely secular (or at least support secular divinity)

Comments are closed so you won't ban yourself by trying to comment on a week-old thread. But don't try it anyway.

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