Throughout the years, I have read many works by a plethora of poets. My parents introduced me to poetry from a very young age, and I have always enjoyed reading it. I found a few favorites, such as Walt Whitman and Shel Silverstein, but one poet and author who always stood out to me was Rudyard Kipling. His basic rhyming style and interesting perspective on the world inspired me to explore more forms of poetry and even try writing some of my own.
Born in Bombay, India in 1865, Joseph Rudyard Kipling became one of the most well-known late Victorian poets and authors. Spending his first five years in India, he later wrote about his experiences, saying “My first impression is of daybreak, light and colour and golden and purple fruits at the level of my shoulder” (Poetry Foundation). However, in 1871, Rudyard and his sister Beatrice were sent to England for education. The next six years of his life were misery. Kipling later said that he had never heard of Hell, but was introduced to it in the foster home where he was staying. Finally, after a nervous breakdown and the realization that his poor grades stemmed partially from a desperate need for glasses, his mother returned to care for him and his sister.
In 1878, Kipling started attending another school, and four years later, unable to afford a major English university, he returned to India to pursue journalism. He held the position of editor of the Civil and Military Gazette for five years. During that time he published his first major collection of poems and a few short stories. He then moved south to join a much larger publication, and around the same time, his own printings started to gain traction, earning Kipling a popular following. However, his stories and poems were published in cheap editions, so he didn’t make much money. In 1889, Kipling again moved to England, determined to have a successful career there.
As hoped, his popularity skyrocketed very soon after settling in England. He rose in fame so quickly that Kipling’s biographer dubbed 1890 “Rudyard Kipling’s year.” His fans loved the cockney speech and rhyming schemes, while those who disapproved of him and his works usually criticized him for those very reasons. Wolcott Balestier, an American publisher, befriended Kipling and persuaded him to work on a novel together. While the book was unsuccessful, Rudyard met Balestier’s sister, Caroline, and married her in January of 1892. The two moved to America and settled down in Vermont. Kipling’s two daughters were born there, and it’s also where The Jungle Book was created.
Kipling continued to publish poems, short stories, and books and saw much success. But in 1896, Kipling moved once again, this time to Rottingdean, Sussex, England. Here, Kipling published another one of his greatest works, Captains Courageous. After his oldest daughter, Josephine, died from pneumonia, Kipling dove into his work, trying to find a reprieve from the pain in his heart. He published Kim, the story of an orphaned Irish boy who grows up in India, and it was considered, even by his critics, to be his finest piece of art.
The Kipling family moved for the last time to another part of England in 1902. In 1917 he was assigned the post of “Honorary Literary Advisor” to the Imperial War Graves Commission, and in the same year his son, John, who had been MIA for two years, was confirmed dead. Many people blame his withdrawn and bitter attitude and rude political views on the deaths of his two children. He seemed against his own country’s government and rapidly lost popularity. Then, in 1936, Rudyard Kipling died from an illness, at the age of seventy.
Below is the beginning of one of my favorite poems by Rudyard Kipling, though I highly suggest you read the full version as well.
The American Rebellion (an excerpt)
Twas not while England’s sword unsheathed
Put half a world to flight,
Nor while their new-built cities breathed
Secure behind her might;
Not while she poured from Pole to Line
Treasure and ships and men—
These worshippers at Freedoms shrine
They did not quit her then!
Not till their foes were driven forth
By England o’er the main—
Not till the Frenchman from the North
Had gone with shattered Spain;
Not till the clean-swept oceans showed
No hostile flag unrolled,
Did they remember that they owed
To Freedom—and were bold!
While Kipling became increasingly unpopular towards the end of his life, many people found inspiration and solace in Kipling’s poems and stories. His simple rhyming creates a pleasant cadence, making his poems easy and fun to read, reminding beginning poets that their own works don’t necessarily need complex rhyme schemes or rhythms to be great works of art. His struggles and the knowledge he gained from experiencing many different cultures helped him create compelling, believable, and relatable pieces of literature, and he will always be revered as one of the greatest poets of the nineteenth century.
“Rudyard Kipling.” Poetry Foundation. www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/rudyard-kipling. Accessed August 17, 2020.
Stewart, John I.M. “Rudyard Kipling.” Britannica. www.britannica.com/biography/Rudyard-Kipling. Accessed August 17, 2020.
Rudyard Kipling. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rudyard_Kipling
Kipling, Rudyard. The Cat that Walked by Himself. https://fineartamerica.com/featured/the-cat-that-walked-by-himself-rudyard-kipling.html