Tag Archives: Rudyard Kipling

Poetry or Doggerel?

Many years ago when my children were young, I used to read and recite poetry to them, rather than nursery rhymes.  One of their favourites was Vitiae Lampada, Sir Henry Newbolt’s famous poem.  Do you know this one?

“There’s a breathless hush in the Close to-night —
Ten to make and the match to win —
A bumping pitch and a blinding light,
An hour to play and the last man in.
And it’s not for the sake of a ribboned coat,
Or the selfish hope of a season’s fame,
But his Captain’s hand on his shoulder smote
“Play up! play up! and play the game..”

For the rest of this poem click here.

In Britain in the late 19th century and the early 20th century there was  a blind devotion to Britain and her Empire and yet there was an ethos that the playing of the game was better than winning.   There was also the powerful social phenomenon of the ‘Basically Sound Chap’.  Rudyard Kipling was one,  so was John Buchan and so of course, was Henry Newbolt.  This poem then might almost be regarded as the anthem of the Basically Sound Chaps.  The stiff upper lip was his trademark but today the BSC would probably be regarded as politically incorrect; he had no female equivalent and he often did not get along very well with women.

When I first tried my hand at poetry, it was very simply rhyming verse and in fact I considered it (and still do) doggerel.

Doggerel?  “Doggerel is a derogatory term for verse considered of little literary value. The word probably derived from dog, suggesting either ugliness, puppyish clumsiness, or unpalatability (as in food fit only for dogs). “Doggerel” is attested to have been used as an adjective since the fourteenth century and a noun since at least 1630.” via Wikipedia.

My first attempt at writing poetry followed a wedding in a small ski resort here in New Zealand.  It was headed The Party with Apologies to Noel Coward”  And it started

“We went to this marvellous party
All manner of people were there
We drove through the rain
To toast Robin and Elaine
A chance to let down our hair…”

I went on to name all of the people who were present that weekend and if I say so myself, it was quite clever.  But it was definitely doggerel.

When we arrived back in New Zealand from a very brief sojourn in Montreal, my children each went back to the schools they had attended before and quickly settled back into the life of New Zealand children.  However there was one person that made this re-immersion difficult and that was a teacher at my son’s school.

Having asked the children to write an essay on what they had done during the school holidays, she shot down my very young son (he was only about 7 or 8 years old) by saying that they weren’t interested in his tales about travelling to far distant places.  How cruel is that from a school teacher.

Another time, she asked the boys to tell her the name of their favourite poem.  Imagine my son’s dismay when she dismissed Sir Henry Newbolt’s Vitiae Lampada as doggerel.  He of course, didn’t know this word and was very upset.

It transpired that this young woman teacher had chosen to teach in a boys only school even though she really didn’t like young boys.  Go figure, as we say now.

So if this great poem is doggerel, then maybe I am in good company with my scratchings.

….I’ve been to a marvellous party
I must say the fun was intense;
We all had to do
What the people we knew
Might be doing a hundred years hence.
We talked about growing old gracefully,
And Elsie—who’s seventy-four—
Said, “A) It’s a question of being sincere,
And B) If you’re supple you’ve got nothing to fear”—
Then she swung upside-down from a chandelier!
And I couldn’t have liked it more!
From “I’ve Been To a Marvellous Party”
Sir Noel Coward, English playwright, director, actor
and singer 1889 – 1973.

What’s Around That Corner?

A bend in the road

Occasionally when I am  out walking with Lotte and I look ahead and just for a moment wonder what might lie around that bend.  Is it something wonderful or something to be scared of?

And then I think of one of my favourite poems by Rudyard Kipling :

“They shut the road through the woods
Seventy years ago.
Weather and rain have undone it again,
And now you would never know
There was once a road through the woods
Before they planted the trees.
It is underneath the coppice and heath,
And the thin anemones.
Only the keeper sees
That, where the ring-dove broods,
And the badgers roll at ease,
There was once a road through the woods.
Yet, if you enter the woods
Of a summer evening late,
When the night-air cools on the trout-ringed pools
Where the otter whistles his mate.
(They fear not men in the woods,
Because they see so few)
You will hear the beat of a horse’s feet,
And the swish of a skirt in the dew,
Steadily cantering through
The misty solitudes,
As though they perfectly knew
The old lost road through the woods….
But there is no road through the woods. “

This was one of the poems that we learned at school and now some 55 years later, I can still recite it.

I do know that different interpretations of any poetry are possible. This poem talks to me of plans made and discarded in favour of new plans.  We can decide to take the road through the woods or an alternative perhaps easier way, where the road is still clear and unhampered, or we can take this way strewn with brambles and humps aka problems and challenges.  Some of us choose the easy way and enjoy life to a certain extent, never knowing how great it feels to overcome the challenges.  And the rest of us…..

Well we know what it is to go out into the world without a safety net.  Sure, it’s scary and not comfortable, but oh the joy when we accomplish what we had thought was impossible.

So today I am encouraging you (but only if you feel strong and secure enough of course) to ditch the safety net and meet life head on.  Who know what you may find.

“To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily.  To not dare is to lose oneself. ”
Soren Kierkegaard
, 1813 –1855
Danish Christian philosopher, theologian and author.

And in no means meant as a postscript:

I should like to thank sincerely all 70 people who have subscribed to my blog and to the 14,000 plus visitors to this site.  Thank you, thank you.  I am honoured that you read my blogs and comment.  In fact, blown away would more accurately describe my feelings for you all.

Wind blowing cloud

via Clipart


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Changes and Choices

Today I read two blogs that set me on this path.  First I read cycling around the neighborhood from my blogging friend Robin at bogsofohio and then I read Monica’s post   As you know by now I am a quotation and poetry nut so I immediately remembered two of my favorite poems –

The Way Through The Woods by Rudyard Kipling:

 They shut the road through the woods
Seventy years ago.
Weather and rain have undone it again,
And now you would never know
There was once a road through the woods
Before they planted the trees.
It is underneath the coppice and heath,
And the thin anemones.
Only the keeper sees
That, where the ring-dove broods,
And the badgers roll at ease,
There was once a road through the woods.

Listen to Nigel Planer read the poem here.

and The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.

And listen here to Alan Bates’ rendition of this poem.

In case you don’t know Robin lives an idyllic life in beautiful surroundings and as soon as I saw the first photos today, I thought of Rudyard Kipling.  Kipling is best remembered for his celebration of British imperialism in his poetry, short stories and novels.  Most people know of “If” and “The Jungle Book” “Mandalay” and Gunga Din” but he also wrote political essays for the newspapers of his time.  He  received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907.   He was one of the most popular English authors in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in both prose and verse.  At the school I attended in London, Kipling was a favorite of the English staff and so we were brought up reciting his poems and hearing about his many other writings.

Monica’s post was on The Road Not Taken and how the decision had affected her life.  From time to time, we must surely all ask ourselves the question of what if we had taken the other road.

Robert Frost was an American writer of prose and poetry. He was awarded four Pulitzer prizes for poetry.

The two authors lived during the same period – Frost 1874-1963 and Kipling 1865-1936 and one wonders if their lives ever crossed.  We do know that Kipling lived in Vermont for a while and it is now possible to stay at his house “Naulakha” where he wrote “Captain Courageous”.

While we were not fed a diet of Robert Frost at school, we did have a brief introduction to his writing and I became entranced.  His writing is not as easy to read as Kipling’s.  It doesn’t of course have the thrum of British Imperialism.  But if you are into poetry I suggest you read some of his.  My favorites include :

  • For once, then something
  • A girl’s garden
  • The oven bird.

“We are where we are today because of the choices we made yesterday” Judith Baxter, blogger, writer, friend.