This article, by F. A. Underwood, was originally written for the Kipling Journal of December 1973. He has kindly agreed to its reproduction here as a contribution to the New Readers' Guide.
The early work is juvenilia, but juvenilia which, having been published in its time, is essential reading for a full understanding of Kipling's progress. Most of it is what it was intended to be, light reading in an English newspaper in India . . . That he is gifted, that he is worth watching, is obvious when you know how young he is: but the gift appears to be only for the ephemeral, and the writer appears to aim at nothing higher.It is fortunate that some of us can read light verse for fun. No doubt the literary critic has to make decisions such as Eliot's, but I still feel a guilty but unrepentant pleasure when I turn to these ephemeral productions, as I do now and then. Whilst acknowledging the correctness of the critics' judgement, I find it strange but perhaps significant that bitter-sweet verses written for an expatriate society a hundred years ago can still be read with enjoyment rather than as essential background for the student. Possibly the appeal lies in the fact that, leaving aside felicities of versification, there is much that is universal and timeless in the ditties. “Potiphar Gubbins”, “Exeter Battleby Tring”, “Pagett, M. P.”, “Delilah Aberystwyth” and others will always be with us, and, although the death-rate is not so high as it was amongst the Anglo-Indians:
[A Choice of Kipling's Verse made by T. S. Eliot with an essay on Rudyard Kipling, Faber and Faber, 1941]
'. . . Do those declineAs Kipling himself concluded the "General Summary" which prefaced the collection:
The step that offers or the work resign?
Trust me, Today's Most Indispensables,
Five hundred men can take your place or mine.'
'Thus the artless songs I singKipling wrote a great deal of light verse for his newspaper in his spare time and much of it was never collected because, naturally enough, its quality varied. A short series of 'Bungalow Ballads' in the Pioneer during 1885 was not very successful, so that only two survived to be collected : "Divided Destinies" and "The Mare's Nest". A group of poems on 'official' themes together with others went to make up Departmental Ditties and Other Verses as first published: Departmental Ditties originally appeared as a series of ten in the Civil and Military Gazette in 1886, and the 'other verses', including the two just mentioned, appeared there or in the Pioneer in 1885 or 1886. It is interesting to look through the early editions because the expansion of the book with each one makes it unique among Kipling's publications. As Louis L. Cornell put it:
Do not deal with anything
New or never said before
As it was in the beginning
Is to-day official sinning
And shall be for ever more.'
'. . . in the course of its four earlier editions (1886-90) provided a conveniently elastic vehicle for putting Kipling's poems before the public'.The titles added to each edition are duly listed in the bibliographies, but I intend to discuss the effect of the additions rather than the numbers, and I shall also mention the minor changes which were made, in particular those for the English public.
[Louis L. Cornell, Kipling in India, Macmillan, 1966].
'Your poetry very good, sir; just coming proper length today. You giving more soon? One-third column just proper. Always can take on third page.'The first page, which stated that 'The writer is indebted to the Pioneer and the Civil and Military Gazette for permission to reprint the papers contained in this docket', showed the contents as "General Summary", the ten ditties and fifteen other verses. Most of my own favourites were included already, for instance the ditties "Army Head- Quarters", "The Story of Uriah", "The Post that Fitted", "Pink Dominoes" and "A Code of Morals" and amongst the other verses, "Pagett, M.P." and "The Undertaker's Horse". I find it strange that I can still feel with the writer a trivial incident like the conversion of a ballroom to an office which is mourned in "The Plea of the Simla Dancers":
Then the printing on the office plant and the publication:
'Of these "books" we made some hundreds, and as there was no necessity for advertising, my public being to my hand, I took reply-postcards, printed the news of the birth of the book on one side, the blank order-form on the other, and posted them up and down the Empire from Aden to Singapore, and from Quetta to Colombo. There was no trade discount, no reckoning twelves as thirteens, no commission, and no credit of any kind whatever. The money came back in poor but honest rupees, and was trans- ferred from the publisher, the left-hand pocket, direct to the author, the right-hand pocket. Every copy sold in a few weeks, and the ratio of expenses to profits, as I remember it, has since prevented my injuring my health by sympathising with publishers who talk of their risks and advertisements.'
'To-night, the moon that watched our lightsome wiles —And so on, ending, 'Give us our ravished ball-room back again!' After all those years something comes through even to a reader who cannot hum "See Saw" and "Dream Faces", which, incidentally, was also mentioned in "Possibilities". With the exception of "The Rupaiyat of Omar Kal'vin", no poem refers specifically to a single political issue, and the volume has a unity which was lost to some extent in the subsequent enlargements. The series nature of the ditties was emphasised by the fact that the heading to "A Code of Morals" originally had:
That beamed upon us through the deodars —
Is wan with gazing on official files,
And desecrating desks disgust the stars.'
' 'Tis my ninthinstead of: ' 'Tis a most' as in later editions.
'The wire binding cut the pages and the red tape tore the covers. This was not intentional, but Heaven helps those who help themselves. Consequently there arose a demand for a new edition, and this time I exchanged the pleasure of taking money over the counter for that of seeing a real publisher's imprint on the title-page.'Five poems were added, including "A Ballade of Jakko Hill" and "A Ballad of Burial", both of which seem appropriate, whereas "The Over- land Mail" does not. Some relatively weak verses entitled "Lucifer" appeared only in this edition of the book, although they were included in the de Luxe and Sussex editions and the corresponding American ones. "Lucifer" tells of an Indian Civil Servant who was transferred to Simla because of family influence but became too proud and was sent back to the plains.
'St. Vincent Clare's Papa had lived before him —And after the fall:
Which always helps —
So early in official life. They bore him
Destined to die or sicken in the slough
Of Lower India, to the Mountain's brow.'
'He sought the Plains,The verse beginning:
And now behind his door, whoe'er so tappeth it,
'While Vincent, as the punkah flickers o'er him,
Remembers — that his father lived before him.'
'I want you to see that Jenny and Mewas inserted in brackets in "Pink Dominoes", and some lines in "Pagett, M.P.", were altered for the better. These originally read:
Had barely exchanged our troth . . .'
'July was a trifle unhealthy, Pagett was ill with fear,The last two lines were improved technically and made more telling as well:
Called it the "cholera morbus"; hinted that life was dear —
Dearer than written agreements. So I suspected, and kept
Most of his kit in my godown locked, and he nearly wept.'
'He babbled of "eastern exile", and mentioned his home with tears;No. 4 of "Certain Maxims of Hafiz" was originally the strange couplet,
But I hadn't seen my children for close upon seven years.'
'Hearts that be seared with passion andThe replacement beginning: 'The temper of chums . . .' was also a decided improvement.
hocks that the iron sears,
Though they may irk their owner
last for a hundred years.'
'Ephesus stands — you may find it still —The verses are an allegory which tells how when a beauty who had held sway for many years aged and was rejected a new one took her place and:
On the lee of a verdurous, pine-clad hill,
And once in a twelve-month the folk below
Flock to the pines and the upland snow —
Flee from the sunshine, the glare and the dust,
For the good of their souls — as is right and just.'
'The City is old as the pines above,But the new Goddess herself 'must die in the eyes of men' and so on. The stanzas now numbered 14, 15, 18 and 19 were added to "Certain Maxims of Hafiz" and the final line to "Giffen's Debt", although probably few would have missed it if the whole poem had been omitted.
Old as the mountains, as old as Love;
And I am as old as a man may be
Ere he pass from the pines to the Unknown Sea,
And I serve, as I served in the years gone by,
The great Diana who fell from the sky.'
'It was an August evening and, in snowy garments clad,The Waler originally jumped an ekka rather than a bullock, patent wheels were shisham wheels and, 'Before they called the drivers up' read, 'Before they got the muchnas up'.
I took my hawah-khana round the lines of Hezabad,
When, presently, my Waler saw, and did not like at all,
A Commissariat hathee, nautching gaily down the Mall.
I couldn't see the driver, and across my mind it rushed
That that Commissariat hathee had — forgive the rhyme — gone musth'.
'loved it best when it was a little brown baby with a pink string around its stomach'.