First published in the Sunday Pictorial (London) October 26th 1919, and - as "The Gods of the Copybook Margins" - in Harper's Magazine in January 1920. Has also been called "Maxims of the Market Place". Collected in:
Some critical comments
J M S Tompkins (p. 197) defines "The Gods of the Copybook Headings" as 'the unescapable (sic) conditions inherent in human nature, witnessed by history, ignored at our peril.'
Andrew Lycett (p.641) calls the poem Kipling’s:
Peter Keating (p. 220) discusses the poem at length:
That Kipling was not consciously abandoning the more public side of his poetry in the years immediately following the war, is demonstrated most strikingly by the publication of "The Gods of the Copybook Headings" in the Sunday Pictorial , 26 October 1919.
my incarnations Kipling’s poem “In the Neolithic Age” features personal reincarnation – in 'whiter, weaker flesh and bone more frail.' In “The Finest Story in the World” from Many Inventions, the protagonist remembers two previous lives.
living in trees Kipling starts his story with the first human ancestors.
Uplift, Vision and Breadth of Mind the capitals emphasize the trendy empty terms used by the Gods of the Market-Place
listed archaic word for 'wished' or 'desired'.
word would come That a tribe had been wiped off its icefield When the Gods of the Copybook Headings are ignored, retribution follows, whether among savage tribes or in the heart of civilisation
Stilton ... Dutch There’s an old saying that the Moon is made of green cheese. Stilton is a high-class English cheese, and there are many Dutch cheeses.
Wishes were Horses 'If wishes were horses, beggars would ride'.
a Pig had Wings 'If a pig had wings it would fly'. Both these traditional sayings pour scorn on wishful thinking.
Cambrian a real geological period. Here, as Keating points out, it stands for the Welshman Lloyd George, who was Prime-Minister for much of the Great War. (Cambria is the Latin name for Wales). Lloyd George was the chief British negotiator for the Treaty of Versailes in 1919 which officially ended the War. This disarmed Germany but pledged all the Great Powers to disarm themselves progressively. Kipling srtongly disapproved of Lloyd George, the Liberals, and the Treaty.
'Stick to the Devil you know.' The usual form of this saying is 'better the Devil you know than the one you don’t.' Here it means that being prepared for war is better than being disarmed and defenceless.
Feminian a made-up term which sounds suitably geological. It refers to the emancipation of women, a lively issue at the time.
'The Wages of Sin is Death.' See Paul's Epistle to the Romans 6,23.
Carboniferous Another genuine geological period, in which coal measures were formed. Here it stands for the increasing power of trade unions, particularly the coal-miners.
robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul 'Robbing Peter to pay Paul' is a traditional phrase, usually meaning borrowing money to pay off debt. Here it means taxing the productive part of the population to support the idle.
“If you don’t work you die.” St. Paul wrote 'If any would not work, neither should he eat.' (See Paul's Second Epistle to the Thessalonians, 3,10) The harsher version seems to be Kipling’s own. He used it earlier in “Sestina of the Tramp-Royal” (verse 4 line 4) 'For ‘im that doth not work must surely die.'
All is not Gold that Glitters a common misquotation. 'All that glisters is not gold.' Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice Act II Sc 6
the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire, See 2 Peter 2.22: 'But it happened unto them according to the true proverb, the dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed, to her own wallowing in the mire.'
the burnt Fool’s bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire. There is a proverb 'The burnt child fears the fire.' Only a Fool gets burnt and does not learn by the experience.
wabbling more usually spelt 'wobbling'.
brave new world See Shakespeare's The Tempest [Act V. scene 1 line 183] 'O brave new world, that has such creatures in’t.'
all men are paid for existing referring back to verse 7.
no man must pay for his sins referring back to verse 6
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