"We and They"

(notes by Lisa Lewis)



the poem


[Apr 14 2004]


Publication

First published in Debits and Credits (1926), following the story “A Friend of the Family.”

Background

The connection with the story is not obvious (but see below). Australian aborigines, like those among whom the soldier in the story grew up, do not seem to be among the peoples referred to in the poem. It reprises a favourite theme of Kipling’s, that the English should learn to respect other cultures. See e.g. "The Mother-Lodge”; "Kim", including the chapter-headings, “Buddha at Kamakura” and “The Prayer”; also “Jobson’s Amen”, following the story “In the Presence” in A Diversity of Creatures (1917).

Critical Opinions

Angus Wilson commented [p. 290]: “His angry irritation at insularity is only thinly disguised by the playfulness of [the] poem.”

Judith van Heerswynghels, editor and translator of Debits and Credits in the Pléiade edition of Rudyard Kipling, Oeuvres, vol. IV [Gallimard: Liège, 2001]: suggested that this poem:
évoque avec humour les préjugés qui s’attachent aux peoples étrangers que les citoyens bien-pensants méprisent et considérent comme barbares; on peut y voir une allusion au personage, si étrange et pourtant si profondément humain, de Hickmot. (evokes with humour the prejudices that become attached to foreigners whom respectable citizens despise and consider to be savages; an allusion can be seen here to the character, so odd and yet so deeply human, of Hickmot) [p. 1247].
Daniel Karlin commented:
The poem is far more playful than the ones which accompany some of the others in the collection, and is based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s manner in the poems of A Child’s Garden of Verses, which Kipling also parodied in a section of A Muse among the Motors. [Daniel Karlin (ed.), Rudyard Kipling (The Oxford Authors, Oxford University Press, 1999, p. 677)].



Note on the text


[Page 327, line 11] cow-horn-handled knives For Hindus, any such use of bovine products is an offence against the sacredness of cows.


L.L.