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THE IDEAS IN KIPLING'S POETRY LIONEL STEVENSON A LTHOUGH the right of Rudyard Kipling to be considered the chief living poet of England would probably be warmly upheld by a large majority of the reading public, including not only l'homme moyen sensuel but also a good many people who pride themselves on their literary discernment, yet there seems to be a conspiracy of misrepresentation and suppression against him in the current anthologies and critical pronouncements . To be sure, any author who excels in more than one field is apt to suffer, owing to' the classifying tendency of critics, who hate to distribute a single author through several of their pigeon-holes. They find it hard to pay equal attention to Hardy as novelist and poet, or to Galsworthy a's novelist and playwright, and Robert Louis Stevenson gets unfair play in all his protean activities because they have given him up in despair. Kipling, therefore, having been labeled the master of the English short story, must reconcile himself to being disqualified as a poet. Against him, however, appears a more active hostility than just this natural lack of perspective. At the risk cif seeming .equally myopic by ignoring his prose work and concentrating on his poetry, I shall try to pin down some of the elusive accusations and observe them. · His skill and technique are often impugned by the statement that he is a rough-and-ready balladist, a musichall poet, using vigorous poster effects, but lacking in any subtlety of feeling or delicacy of artistic sense. Familiarity with the whole range of his work suffices to disprove such a view. At the beginning of his career he studied THE UNIVERSITY OF· TORONTO QUARTERLY his craft by the approved methods. His schoolboy contributions to the "United Services College Chronicle" are almost all imitations and parodies of the leading poets, showing real skill in capturing the traits of such diverse masters as Browning and Swinburne. In his first book, Departmental Ditties, further practise pieces are to be found-two imitations of Fitzgerald's Omar Khayyam and one of Tennyson's In Memoriam, an adaptation of the luscious melodies of Poe's Raven, a dramatic monologue in the best Browning Bishop Blougram style, an excellent parody of Browning's Love among the Ruins and an: even better one of Swinburne's Before the Beginning of Years, a ballade, a couple of sonnets,-in short, all the characteristic exercises of the 'prentice poet. Clearly, then, his skill in forceful images and swinging metres was not solely an instinct; like practically every successful poet, he laboured long and hard in preparation for apparent spontaneity , and imitated predecessors as a necessary step to eventual individuality. We need not be surprised, therefore, that Kipling has written the only sestina in English that has poetic merit, though the form has been tried by the deftest practitioners of the strict French patterns; or that in The Craftsman he was equally successful in Sapphics, with which so many lovers of the classics have pathetically fumbled; or that several of his imitations of the traditiona! folk-ballads come nearer to catching the authentic indefinable glamor of them than the enthusiasts of the romantic revival ever did. Then there is the tantalizing fragment, Gow's Watch, solemnly labeled as "Act II, Scene 2" of some morbid tragedy that might be from the very hand of John Webster, being in both diction and action an epitome of that magnificant decadence. In addition to these specific instances of difficult tours 468 THE IDEAS IN KIPLING'S POETRY deforce, there are many poems in which he strikes without apparent effort the keynote of some style that might be expected to be utterly alien to him. The artful artlessness of the Jacobean lyric is repeatedly his, as early as 1890 in The Explanation and later in My Lady's Law and The§

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 467-489
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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