“If I have taken the common clay”

(notes edited by Geoffery Annis)

Publication

 

This is the heading to the fifth chapter of The Light that Failed.

The poem

This verse contrasts honest creative endeavour with tainted or corrupted work. It expresses real artistic conflict, beginning with the “Melancolias”, and Dick’s anger at what he perceives as Maisie’s unwillingness to do proper work. In its use of two opposed ‘voices’ to express contrasted ideas, and in tone and style, the poem owes something, I believe, to William Blake’s “The Clod and the Pebble” which is one of his Songs of Experience (1794):

Love seeketh not itself to please.
Nor for itself hath any care
But for another gives its ease
And builds a heaven in hell’s despair

 

So sung a little clod of clay,
Trodden with the cattle’s feet;
But a pebble of the brook
Warbled out these meters meet.

Love seeketh only Self to please,
To bind another to its delight,
Joys in another’s loss of ease,
And builds a hell in heaven’s despair.

ORG (no. 449) refers to these verses as from a poem “The Two Potters”, but notes them as ‘not K’. We have not traced this as a poem by another hand. They are most probably by Kipling himself; see Pinney (pp. 875 and 1489) .

[Page 147 line 18] gone off at score an outdated English phrase meaning to start off vigorously with insufficient preparation or thought. ‘Score’ meant a starting point in a race or a standing place at a shooting match.

[G.A.]

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