The Muse among
(Notes on the text
by John McGivering
and John Radcliffe)
What an apt point of departure: a supposed translation of an epigram from The Greek Anthology, one of the fountain-heads of European (hence by descent English) poetry. Specifically, Kipling's couplet evokes Simonides ... author of the famous epitaph for the Spartans who fell at Thermopylae:
'Go now, and tell the Spartans, passer-by,Kipling had imitated similarly terse epigrams from The Greek Anthology in his Great War sequence, "Epitaphs of the War 1914—1918" , notably in "Common Form" ... Here Kipling uses fast cars and Simonides to offer a laconic, sardonic reflection on love and death. En passant, he also takes the opportunity to have a swipe at the stiltedness of much Victorian translatorese in the phrase 'aught 'neath the sun'.
That here obedient to their laws we lie.'
This evocation of a series of hit-and-run accidents is a small masterpiece and seriously challenges the common assumption that Kipling never read his younger, more experimental contemporaries. Both the style and the use of free verse suggest that he must have known Ezra Pound's Cathay (1915) and Lustra (1916) or Arthur Waley's A Hundred and Seventy Chinese Poems (1918) or perhaps both. Kipling brilliantly hits off the compressions and inversions, the somewhat mannered phrasing and cadence—the sheer Chinoiserie—of Pound's and Waley's translations in lines like 'Dead leaves under foot reproach not' and 'How black a shadow!'.Janet Montefiore (p. 121) writing of Kipling’s pastiches and parodies refers to W.S. Gilbert’s "Bab Ballads" (largely the verses from Gilbert and Sullivan's Savoy Operas) and other comic verse, which show some brutality. She continues:
Notice, too, the quietly aestheticising pun in the title, "Arterial", hinting at the artiness of Chinese poetry, a point immediately exemplified by the exquisite delicacy of describing a road covered with black ice as "the ebony-lacquered avenue".
The jokes in “The Muse Among the Motors” follow suit, often turning on fatal car crashes—as in the two exquisite poems entitled “Arterial"... This is an extraordinarily accomplished pastiche—presumably of Arthur Waley’s translation of early Chinese poetry, perhaps also of tne Pound of Cathay. [Ezra Pound's great series of poems "Cathay and the Way Thither" (1915): Eds.] If one didn’t know the author, these poems would look like Imagist epiphanies turning on the distinction between the timeless pastoral of Chinese poetry and the modernity of the motor-car.Professor Montefiore's full chapter 6 on 'Kipling's Poetry' is well worth study.
What I like about this piece of verse is that it describes something which has been happening for centuries—in my young days, it was to show off your MG TC to your girl-friend. Kipling, in effect, has the poet (Horace), in Samuel Johnson’s words “driving briskly in a post-chaise with a pretty woman”—for post-chaise read chariot—and Dorothy L. Sayers, in Murder must Advertise, has Lord Peter Wimsey driving furiously in his Bentley, egged on by a bad girl named Diana de Momerie. [A.W.]
In a somer sesun, whon softe was the sonne,
I schop me into a shroud, as I a scheep were;
In habite as an hermite unholy of werkes
Wente I wyde in this world wondres to here;
["The Vision of Piers Plowman", William Langland, c. 1330-1387]
... except that he only does so in a loosely impressionistic way. Instead of accurately reproducing the basic pattern of such verse – two alliteratively stressed syllables in the first half of the line and one (only very occasionally two) in the second, Kipling makes up his own pattern, which mostly consists of separate alliterate grouping in each half of the line ('Lordly of leather, gaudily gilded'): highly alliterative, but not quite the same thing.Notes on the text
The second, while it contains at least one mistake as obvious as "sterve", is equally authentic in its general tone, showing the same close observation and attention to detail. A consultation of the Chaucer concordance (analysis of the words Chaucer used) reveals no knowledge on his part of the word "squeeke", but the following passage on a road-hog has, none the less, a peculiarly Chaucerian air:Weygandt goes on to comment: 'To judge by his parodies, Kipling knew the "Prologue to the Canterbury Tales" more intimately than any other piece of Chaucer's writing. '
For simple people and for lordlings eke
Hee wolde not bate a del but onlie squeeke
Behinde their backes on an horne hie...
As its title implies, "The Justice's Tale" is one of the parodies which involves motoring and the law. It also contains a couple of good jokes. 'By the Road' is a nice travesty of the stock medieval phrase 'By the Rood' (meaning 'By the Cross') and 'He was more wood [mad] than bull in china-shoppe' speaks for itself.Notes on the text
However, while Kipling successfully travesties Chaucer's habit of slipping in homely proverbs and colloquialisms and manages quite effectively to echo something of his slyly guileless tone:
'Hee was soe wise ne man colde showe him naught
And out of Paris was hys learnyng brought'
A half-nod here to the Prioress, perhaps, the attempts at 'Chaucerian' spelling and prosody are too slapdash to produce anything more than a very generalised and largely visual impression of the original.
This parody bolsters itself up with several words and phrases taken direct from the original. The borrowing would not make it successful, were Kipling not able to catch the rhythms of Chaucer's prose as well as those of his poetry. But it, also, reveals how thoroughly the modern writer had absorbed the spirit of his fourteenth-century prototype.Notes on the text
...consists chiefly of far from poetic couplets giving advice as to the proper times and seasons for planting and harvesting, breeding and slaughtering, brewing and baking. Its compressed, proverb-ridden style is quaint, but monotonous.However, Weygandt goes on to note the Foreword to a new edition of The Five Hundred Points published in London by James Tregaskis in 1931, and edited by E V Lucas, with a 'Benediction' by Rudyard Kipling. Lucas quotes from a letter from Kipling in which he praises Tusser's verse and expresses appreciation of the: 'meatiness of Tusser's couplets, and their long life and practical value' Weygandt concludes:
Kipling's affectionate intimacy with Tusser was such that ... he was able to produce a very fair imitation of his style. The singsong rhythm, the inversions, the compressions, the very vocabulary - he achieves them all.The Theme
"To a Lady, Persuading her to a Car" shows how familiar he was with the Jonsonian lyric. The title might as easily be Herrick as Jonson, and Ben seems to have abandoned his own sweetheart for Daniel's Delia, but these are minor matters. The form is the tetrameter couplet of "Still to be neat"; the chariot must have been suggested by the one in "Her Triumph"; and jewels and dress-stuffs are particularised as carefully as ever by Jonson himself.The Theme
...it is interesting to note the evidence of a re-reading of Donne cropping up in Kipling's work in the early nineties ... Yet when he went about to parody his elder, he certainly did not select one of his smoother passages for imitation. He may have thought stanza 35III of the "First Song" of "The Progresse of the Soule" especially suited to a burlesque in which an automobile must be concerned, but it was evidently not suited to draw out his own powers of mimicry.Notes on the text
Since Donne's name stands at its head ... we cannot fail to recognize its object, but it does not immediately and inevitably suggest Donne to us. Kipling is not imitating the best, or the best-known Donne, and he has tied himself down to a specific model; consequently, his work suffers.
Of "The Braggart", Kipling's attempt in Prior's manner, there is little to be said once we have admitted that it embodies his bantering attitude in a very fair reproduction of his loose pentameter couplet. It may, however, be added that Kipling must really have read Prior to choose this form of quatrain as representative of his patterns for epigrams - the examples of his wit to be found in anthologies are almost invariably in tetrameter!Notes on the text
... it is only in "When the journey was Intended to the City" that he reveals the extent of his familiarity with "Paradise Lost". With the exception of the opening ... the imitation seems to be independent of a specific model, yet - or perhaps because of - this, it achieves the sonorous periods of the original. The paragraph structure is here; the long simile (in which Rabelais, like Galileo in Milton's first book, is described without being named); the lengthy Latin word eating up three of the line's five feet ... the post-positive adjective, even the impression of skyey spaces - all are here. The passage sounds like Milton, but it is uninspired. It is neither funny nor impressive. Milton and Cowper are the only men who can write in the Miltronian manner without risk of boring their audiences.Harry Ricketts in KJ 305 is more positive:
This spoof of Milton's grand style is wonderfully and satisfyingly obfuscating. Kipling gets maximum 'mileage' out of Milton's addic- tion to convoluted syntax, extended similes, classical allusions, and ponderous Latinisms (including the splendid 'Circumvoluminant'). So successful is the obfuscation that it can take several readings to work out all the nuances of this hilarious description of drunk driving and the inevitable pile-up.
Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,Ann Weygandt comments:
Old time is still a-flying :
And this same flower that smiles to-day
To-morrow will be dying...
["To the Virgins, to make much of Time"]
The Muse among the Motors shows that he has an extensive knowledge of "The Hesperides", no other verses are alluded to at all. "To Motorists" is written in a form - the tetrameter couplet - used even more frequently by Herrick than by Jonson, and often, as here, in groups of five. It contains the required classical reference and employs several of the more striking words in Herrick's poetical vocabulary. "Jocund" occurs in "And end decree'd," and, more notably, in the postscript to "The pillar of Fame" ... Moreover, the whole attitude of the poem, with its jocular condemnation of the motorist, is such as we might expect Herrick to take:The Theme
"To Motorists" represents one side of Herrick's personality adequately, but it overlooks a theme very common in his work - the fleetingness of time ... This theme Kipling has embodied in "Cities and Thrones and Powers," the prelude to Puck of Pook's Hill.
He certainly seems to have read Byron in all his moods ... his attempt in the style of "Don Juan" is so good that we must admit the fact of his familiarity with its source. Its title "The Tour" is suggestive of both "Childe Harold" and "Don Juan," as well as suited to the subject of motor-cars, and the details of the writing are equally well worked out.And Harry Ricketts in KJ 305 comments:
Byron would have appreciated the rhyming of "Police" with "J.P.'s," the alliterative swiftness of "At practically any pace you please," and the half-resigned finality of "And Juan paid!" Kipling has caught perfectly Byron's mocking tone; evidently he studied "Don Juan" to some purpose both before and after the day that "King" collared him reading it.
How deftly this catches Byron's lordly but worldly tone, the oh-so- knowing aside ('He was a publisher') and even Byron's use of the odd insouciant poeticism ('placid nook'). How neatly Juan's speeding is captured in the deliberately anachronism of the Dogberry/Waterbury joke...Notes on the text
'It falls away from my lodge-gates, dead straight, three-quarters of a mile. I’d defy any one to resist it. We rooked seventy pounds out of ’em last month. No car can resist the temptation. You ought to have one your side the county, Mike. They simply can’t resist it.’The rest of the story tells how the victims get their revenge on the magistrate and his village.
She dwelt among the untrodden waysThe Theme
Beside the springs of Dove,
Maid whom there were none to praise
And very few to love:
A violet by a mosy tone
Half hidden from the eye!
---Fair as a star, when only one
Is shining in the sky.
She lived unknown, and few could know
When Lucy ceased to be;
But she is in her grave, and, oh,
The difference to me!
"The Idiot Boy", which is directly taken from the first and last stanzas of "She dwelt among the untrodden ways", does not cheapen its original as does "Jane Smith", but, while it catches the poem's cadences, it is too obvious to be clever. Anyone could have written it. The impression left after a review of Kipling's allusions to Wordsworth in every kind is that he knew him well, and respected him, but had no special enthusiasm for him.Andrew Lycett (p. 356) is also unimpressed by this ditty, taking it as an example of the 'modest fare' offered by the series.
Kipling plays a number of games here with Wordsworth. The title is of course lifted straight from Wordsworth's 'lyrical ballad' of the same name. 'Wandered' immediately echoes 'I wandered lonely as a cloud', but the Wordsworth the parody mainly recalls is the 'Lucy' poem "She dwelt among the untrodden ways", in particular the final pathetic quatrain which Kipling splendidly undermines with his 'differential gear.
There is no doubt that Kipling knew Praed. His "The Landau" ... gives a pleasant parody of the mood and cadences of "Every-Day Characters" and especially "The Vicar." Its eight-line stanza with alternating masculine and feminine endings to its lines, its Byronic rhymes, and its trick of using Latin phrases for rhyme-words or in the body of the poem, are all preserved.
Some years ago, ere time and taste
Had turn’d our parish topsy-turvy,
When Darnel Park was Darnel Waste,
And roads as little known as scurvy,
The man who lost his way between
St. Mary’s Hill and Sandy Thicket
Was always shown across the green,
And guided to the parson’s wicket...
I never had a piece of toast, particularly long and wide,[Line 4] Tanner’s End to Marlow Ditton there is a 'Tanners End Lane' in present-day north London (N.18) , but this is a typical name for a road in an English country village, which that area may well have been a hundred years ago. Marlow is a town on the River Thames in Buckinghamshire. Thames Ditton is in Surrey but we have not identified a Marlow Ditton. We believe that these country-sounding names were coined by Kipling,
But fell on to the sandy floor, and always on the butter side
[from a newspaper in Norwalk, Ohio in 1841, itself parodying the epic poem "Lalla Rookh" by the Irish poet Thomas Moore (1779-1852). Thus have poets echoed one another down the years; Eds.]
"Contradictions" is cast in the mold of "The Slave in the Dismal Swamp," "The Emperor's Glove," and some thirteen others of Longfellow's poems, "The Discoverer of the North Cape" among them. The final stanza shows how close Kipling has come to Longfellow's idiom without being able to make the burlesque enjoyable.
Kipling seems to appreciate Longfellow's talents as a storyteller, and his power when he is moved by a truly poetic impulse, as in "My Lost Youth," but he is impatient of his frequent versified moralizing.
Would that the structure brave, the manifold music I build,
Bidding my organ obey, calling its keys to their work,
Claiming each slave of the sound, at a touch, as when Solomon willed
Armies of angels that soar, legions of demons that lurk...
His parody of "Abt Vogler" in The Muse among the Motors is negligible. "Mulholland's Contract", "M'Andrew's Hymn" and "The 'Mary Gloster' ", are worthier tributes to Kipling's apprenticeship to Browning. They do not imitate Browning's style, but their method is his—the revealing of character in monologue, and they are, especially the last two, really powerful pieces of work, of a kind impossible to the unformed artist who reproduces closely the mannerisms of his predecessors.Notes on the Text
...it is "Aurora Leigh" that he chooses to parody in The Muse among the Motors. "Lady Geraldine's Hardship" is not very amusing; it is hard to burlesque Mrs. Browning; she has done it herself already. The brand of blank verse, the parentheses and dashes, the mention of cousin Romney, and the constant harping on the fact that the author is a woman unjustly regarded by man, remind us effectually of "Aurora Leigh", but it is depressing even to think of that poem. It would require a very clever parody to reconcile us to its presence in the series, and "Lady Geraldine's Hardship" is no more than competent.Alastair Wilson comments:
I think Anne Weygandt is missing a point here. It may not be a particularly good parody of Elizabeth Barrett Browning—that’s a matter of opinion. But at a time (1919) when women’s suffrage was still an issue (just), and the standard view of a woman’s place being in the home was looking untenable, since women had shown themselves capable of tackling anything during the Great War, its message was as much about male chauvinism as the woman's inability to drive.Janet Montefiore takes a different view:
To me there's a 'serve her right !' feel about the fine. (C.f. the wonderful 'Pont' cartoon of the debby girl who's just driven her car through a chemist's window squawking at the indignant owner "Can't you TRY to get it into your head, you stupid man, that I'm only a learner ?")
Personally I think the 'piteous baby-caps' strewed over the car's radiator is a good touch and funny - though I do find the last 6 lines a bit dull. I suppose inflation is the reason , one has to do arithmateric to see why a £10 fine was so rotten.
Kipling's only conspicuous reference to ... Clough occurs in The Muse among the Motors. "The Bother" parodies "The Bothie of Tober-na-vuolich's" monotonous hexameters, borrows Adam the tutor's name, and substitutes "Hugh the Radical" for Philip Hewson, radical poet.Notes on the text
It presents an accurate picture of Clough's technique; but more happens in its eighteen lines than in eighteen pages of "The Bothie's" dull and leisurely progress. Hugh's ejection from the car seems to imply that Kipling would like to throw Clough overboard, but we must not take the suggestion too seriously; if Kipling disapproves of Clough's political leanings, he thinks enough of four of his lines to use them for a chapter heading.
[for "Baa Baa Black Sheep" in Wee Willie Winkie p. 282]
Hold hard, Ned! Lift me down once more, and lay me in the shade.
Old man, you’ve had your work cut out to guide
Both horses, and to hold me in the saddle when I swayed,
All through the hot, slow, sleepy, silent ride...
... aside from the fact that neither is especially partial to poetic diction, they seem to be very remotely related to each other. Gordon is the commonplace epitomized, in sentiment and execution; no one could be less inspired. Indeed, Kipling has contrived to convey this impression in his burlesque on "The Sick Stock-rider."The Theme
"The Inventor" with its mixture of classical, Indian, and modern names," its personifications of Time and Space, and its employment of varied metres gives us Emerson in concentrate. Even the thought of the first stanza is allied to that of the famous "So nigh is grandeur to our dust".Notes on the Text
This parody is cleverer than the other two because it is not so manifestly absurd; it does not try to be uproarious, and consequently succeeds in arousing at least a smile. Moreover, it contains one really good figure, of the Emersonian type. This is embodied in the last lines of the second stanza.
It does not appear that Emerson aided in shaping Kipling's style outside of his deliberate attempts to recapture it. But his doctrine of faith in nature, and his scraps of proverbial wisdom evidently appealed to Kipling as a boy, and continued to do so all his life ... as we have seen, in Something of Myself. (p. 133)
Kipling is too good a sport not to include himself in this parodic motorcade, and the penultimate piece, "The Moral", appropriately spoken by the car itself and nicely guying "The Song of the Banjo", is again amongst the best.Janet Montefiore writes: 'I'm sure Harry's right about 'The Banjo', but I've also always thought this poem looks back to the "The Secret of the Machines", as well':
There is the annoying note of breezy expertise ('You mustn't groom an Arab with a file'), the irritating air of demotic superiority ('You hadn't ought to tension-spring a mule'); the predilection for out-of-the-way slang ('brumby', an Australian term for a wild horse).
There is a perfect spoof Kiplingesque line: 'I'm the Mentor of banana-fingered men!' (one worthy of the late, great comic poet Gavin Ewart, who specialised in such morsels). There is, finally, the persistent habit of wrenching commonsensical, even platitudinous, maxims from unlikely contexts and delivering them as though they were profound truths:
I will make you I know your left hand from your right.
I will teach you not to drink about your biz.
I’m the only temperance advocate in sight!
I am all the Education Act there is!
...We can neither love nor pity nor forgive,
If you make a slip in handling us, you die...
We are everything on earth—except The Gods'...