Richard Herring: Rudyard Kipling wrote exceedingly bad poetry
Friday 24 Jan 2014
As a columnist it’s my job to challenge orthodoxy, say the unsayable and create pointless controversy and publicity for myself. I’m about to confound all that you hold to be true. Strap in!
Rudyard Kipling was a FLICKING idiot. Yup, I went there.
There are two main reasons. Firstly, Rudyard is a really stupid name. If you want to give a child an unusual name, there are rules.
It has to be a word that exists already: like Apple or Satchel or Moonunit. You can’t make names up. There’s no such thing as a Rudyard. ‘Lanyard’ would be fine, ‘Knacker’s Yard’, not a problem.
Secondly, his poem If… is much lauded but deeply flawed. It starts, ‘If you can keep your head when all around you are losing theirs… blahblahblahblahblah… you’ll be a Man, my son!’
It lists the attributes that, in Rudyard’s opinion, constitute masculinity.
That’s the opinion, remember, of a man who’s been given the name Rudyard and at no point thought: ‘Now I’m grown up I’ll change that to something less stupid, so I don’t get bullied by the other poets.’
The most famous passage reads: ‘If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster And treat those two impostors just the same…. Blahblahblahblahblah… you’ll be a Man, my son!’
Rudyard is saying if your reaction to triumph and disaster is identical, you are a man. Really?
Say you’ve trained your whole life to become a world-class athlete and then win the Olympic 100m gold. According to Rudyard, your reaction must be the same as if you’d witnessed the planes flying into the World Trade Center on 11/9 (as I insist on calling it).
So, if your response to winning the race is to jump in the air, cheering and doing the Mo Farah ‘Mobot’, then that must also be what you did on the streets of New York on that fateful day in September. Which might offend the people around you. They wouldn’t be thinking: ‘What a man!’ They’d be thinking you were a lunatic or an Islamic fundamentalist.
Either that, or your reaction to winning gold should be to fall to the floor, ripping out your hair and decrying man’s inhumanity to man. Which wouldn’t make your fellow competitors think you were a man. They’d be thinking: ‘What a strange and unusual twot!’
Alternatively, and this is probably what Rudyard meant, you could treat triumph and disaster the same by not reacting at all.
So, you’ve overcome cancer and climbed Mount Everest without oxygen, raising a million pounds for charity.
At the top, shrug your shoulders and say: ‘Meh’.
Similarly, if your entire family has been hacked to death by a machete-wielding maniac, on hearing the news you scrunch up your nose and say: ‘Meh. That’s a disaster but I am going to react as I would to a triumph, by not reacting. I’m following the advice of the slightly racist poet Rudyard Kipling.’
If you want to be a man (or a woman), then meet triumph and disaster differently. With a triumph, smile and punch the air, but with a disaster, such as a tsunami, make a sad and considered face as if you’re thinking: ‘Oh no, that’s really bad.’
And if the disaster is really terrible, like maybe a tsunami that involves some Westerners, actually say out loud: ‘Oh no, that’s really bad.’
Rudyard Kipling is a dick. His reign of terror is over. Burn his books.
Don’t eschew Mr Kipling cakes, though – different bloke. He knows what being a man is really about: making cakes. And eating them.