Kipling Friday

It’s that time again. So sit back, relax, and enjoy a poem from Kipling.

The Prairie

I see the grass shake in the sun for leagues on either hand,
I see a river loop and run about a treeless land —
An empty plain, a steely pond, a distance diamond-clear,
And low blue naked hills beyond. And what is that to fear?”

“Go softly by that river-side or, when you would depart,
You’ll find its every winding tied and knotted round your heart.
Be wary as the seasons pass, or you may ne’er outrun
The wind that sets that yellowed grass a-shiver ‘neath the Sun.”

I hear the summer storm outblown — the drip of the grateful wheat.
I hear the hard trail telephone a far-off horse’s feet.
I hear the horns of Autumn blow to the wild-fowl overhead;
And I hear the hush before the snow. And what is that to dread?”

“Take heed what spell the lightning weaves — what charm the echoes shape —
Or, bound among a million sheaves, your soul shall not escape.
Bar home the door of summer nights lest those high planets drown
The memory of near delights in all the longed-for town.”

“What need have I to long or fear? Now, friendly, I behold
My faithful seasons robe the year in silver and in gold.
Now I possess and am possessed of the land where I would be,
And the curve of half Earth’s generous breast shall soothe and ravish me!”

This entry was posted in Kipling.

6 comments on “Kipling Friday

  1. Eveningsun says:

    Again, nice poem. Clicking around a bit I came across your quote from Theodore Roosevelt:

    “Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure… than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.”

    “Far better”? Well, this is of a piece with Kipling, though I can’t imagine Jesus Christ possibly agreeing with it. I mean, when did Jesus ever say we should go out striving and conquering and glory-seeking? Nowhere. And would Jesus EVER have used the words “poor spirits” to describe people who live quiet lives of love and humility?

  2. Andrew says:

    Have you read the entire speech, entitled “The Man In The Arena?”

    But the quote does not address humility and love. One can still have humility and love but still live his or her life to the fullest. Jesus would also disapprove of the critic who would rather watch from the sidelines and make disparaging comments without putting himself in the other man’s shoes. That is not love nor humility.

    The argument can also be made that Gandhi and Mother Theresa accomplished great things and huge triumphs by spreading a message of peace, love, and humility.

  3. Eveningsun says:

    I fear I might not have made myself all that clear. You wrote, “One can still have humility and love but still live his or her life to the fullest.” Well, maybe. But Roosevelt didn’t say merely that daring mighty things is compatible with humility and love. He said that daring mighty things is “far better” than not doing so. In fact he deprecated those who do not engage in mighty exploits (calling them “poor souls”).

    Suppose someone lived a life of love and humility but never dared great exploits. Do you really think Jesus would care about the lack of great exploits? Do you really think Jesus would think of this person as a “poor soul”? The point is that Roosevelt’s value system seems pretty skewed, at least for a Christian.

    I would agree with you and with Roosevelt that there IS something thrilling and admirable about those who dare great things. But I also think that comes from my own sinful worldly nature, and I’d like to keep in mind the fact that there’s a bigger and better value system out there, one where love and humility count for all and great exploits, in and of themselves, for nothing at all.

    Roosevelt says in the speech that “The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood.” He is alluding, of course, to Roman gladiatorial combat–which the early Christians tended to see as a mark of pagan inferiority, if not a form of human sacrifice. (This is the setting from which we get the word “arena.”) The blood on the man’s face could well have been that of a Christian martyr, a possibility that Roosevelt seems not to consider. (He wrote a great deal, none of it very carefully.)

    Think for a second about Roosevelt’s insistence that “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.”

    Sounds great at first, but I doubt you actually believe it. Should those on the sidelines have refrained from criticizing Joseph Stalin? A strong man to be sure. Definitely a doer of deeds. So, who should we respect more–Stalin or Solzhenitsyn? When, say, Hannah Arendt criticizes Hitler, do you just dismiss what she has to say as “disparaging comments”?

    Roosevelt was a great president, but also, alas, all too often a thoughtless bloviator more in tune with his own plans than with God’s.

    Finally, I can’t help but comment on your final examples of those who “accomplished great things and huge triumphs.” One was a pacifist, the other a nonviolent nun, a member of church that has condemned the Iraq War as unjust. FWIW, Ghandi was not a Christian, nor was Mother Teresa, whose recently published letters reveal that she lost her faith. And I can only guess what Kipling would have thought of Ghandi. Neither bears much resemblance to the warrior of San Juan Hill, a man who as a speechifier worked very hard on behalf of a policy that brought about the butchery of hundreds of thousands of Filipinos, creating one of the greatest blots on this great nation’s record. But heck, so what if a million or so are butchered? The important thing is not to criticize. Well, I happen to believe that one should admire what is admirable and criticize what is contemptible.

  4. Andrew says:

    But history will remember the man in the arena, the Stalins, the Gandhis, the Theresas, far more than it will remember those who heckle from the sidelines. That is the take-away from T.R.’s speech. To our posterity, those who do matter more than those who don’t.

    And as a Christian, I have to admit that all of this “What Jesus Thinks” discussion is ultimately moot. We are not devine, and truly cannot know what the Almighty thinks or plans or even has for lunch. At the end of the day we can only live our lives as best as we can according to the teachings that Jesus Christ laid out for us. We are all sinners, saved by grace through faith. Belief in Christ and His salvation is the only way we can be saved. No amount of works, or pretenses upon one’s character can make up for that.

    Also, the saints weren’t very “saintly.” Many of them lost their faith and their way a time or two. Many of them were tax collectors, thieves, etc. Heck, Paul murdered Christians before he had his epiphany and was called to serve the Lord.

    On a side note, I appreciate your comments. It’s nice to have the other side of an argument presented sometimes.

  5. Eveningsun says:

    Thanks, Andrew–I appreciate your appreciation!

    I notice, on the one hand, you write that “as a Christian, I have to admit that all of this ‘What Jesus Thinks’ discussion is ultimately moot” because we “cannot know what the Almighty thinks.” On the other hand you write, “At the end of the day we can only live our lives as best as we can according to the teachings that Jesus Christ laid out for us.”

    But for our purposes here, “what Jesus thinks” and “the teachings that Jesus Christ laid out for us” are the same thing! When I ask “What would Jesus do?” (admittedly a cliche) or “What would Jesus think” I’m opening a discussion that is not “moot” at all but is central to being a Christian, precisely because when we ask that question we’re trying to figure out how (in your words) to “live our lives as best as we can according to the teachings that Jesus Christ laid out for us.”

    You’re right to bring up the old “faith vs. works” question. (As when you say “Belief in Christ and His salvation is the only way we can be saved. No amount of works…can make up for that.”) But I don’t think it’s a good idea to use that theological idea as a reason not to think about how to live an ethical life. Yes, at some point one will probably come up against a moral problem too tough to be solved by mere human reason, at which point one falls back upon faith alone. But again, that’s no reason not to try to think through the moral problems we can solve on our own. The idea that works alone are not sufficient is not an excuse to avoid works, as I’m sure you know. The question of what it takes to be saved and how to live an ethical life are are related, but not identical.

    You’re also right to note that “the saints weren’t very ‘saintly.'” I agree completely. The thing is that, however they might have started out, they ended up as believers. Mother Teresa apparently ended up as a nonbeliever. Which is not to judge her. I think she did a lot of good in the world, and maybe in doing so she saw so much human suffering it overwhelmed her and destroyed her faith. I probably wold have done a lot worse than she did. What I think is intriguing is that she kept up the good work even when she no longer believed.

    And FWIW, I still think Roosevelt is wrong (at least from a Christian perspective) to say that daring great things is “far better” than meekly living a life that is virtuous but unspectacular. He’s not merely pointing out a fact (namely, that those who dare great things tend to be remembered). He’s making a value judgment (namely, that it’s better to dare great things)–and, I must insist, this particular value judgment is not Christian. It’s worldly.The fact that Roosevelt could use the words “poor spirits” to refer to those who live lives that are virtuous but unspectacular tells me that he didn’t understand the first thing about Jesus. Yes, as you point out, the Roosevelt types will be remembered and the others will be forgotten. But forgotten by whom? By the world, not by Jesus. Last time I checked, Jesus said some rather positive things about the meek, but not a peep about the Roosevelt-style strivers. Roosevelt’s values are those of the world. (And frankly I’m a little surprised to see so many people taken in by this sort patently worldly rhetoric. But hey, we’re all misled by our decidedly worldly and seductive culture.)

  6. d says:

    Eveningsun is right and you are right too Andrew. Language is the thing that makes us one and that separates us at the same time. And I am right too when I say that you’re both wrong talking about an Almighty that looks more like a Stalin that can crush you if you are not with him
    As for Mother Theresa losing her faith I am not sure what you too agree on. Apparently she lived with the torment of searching and doubting herself for decades and not at the end of her days. ‘Recently discovered letters reveal…’ no they don’t reveal other than she chose her way despite of doubts in her thoughts and feelings. As you know she continued to serve others not renouncing to her beliefs, albeit shaky, same as Gandhi.

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