BOOK REVIEW / Lines from a separate star: Godfrey Hodgson on an intelligent study of Kipling's noble and honest poetic talent: 'Kipling the Poet' - Peter Keating: Secker & Warburg, 25 pounds

THERE are two reasons why Kipling has not yet received his due as a poet. The first applies to his prose as well. As a Tory, an imperialist, an unashamed and indeed sharptongued antagonist of liberalism, of working-class politics, of every kind of political correctness of the generation that followed his own, he aroused unaffected political hostility from the great majority of critics.

More interesting, he was the victim of his own facility. Precisely because he possessed in magical abundance all the gifts of a traditional poetic talent, he was suspect to a modernist generation that identified worth with difficulty of access.

It is high time for Kipling to be restored to his rightful place as one of the very greatest poets to have written in English in this century. Indeed, the restoration has long been under way. Peter Keating's sympathetic and intelligent study should just about finish the job; for Kipling's enemies are by now in full flight.

Keating does not overstate his case. He acknowledges that a great deal of Kipling's verse is hopelessly dated, much uninspired, some unpleasantly sentimental, chauvinistic and even occasionally undeniably racist.

He does make the point that Kipling was welcomed to the company of poetry by two of the very greatest of his successors, the conservative T S Eliot and W H Auden on the left, so that it can hardly be said that his rehabilitation is the result of swings in the prevailing political climate. Indeed, Keating abstains from a formal reassessment of Kipling's gift or his achievement.

What he does do is to draw attention to the sheer imaginative range and power of Kipling's poetry. Kipling could and did write poems for adults and for children; about soldiers and sailors, but also about high politics and religion. He used verse in an intricate (and highly experimental) way to illuminate short stories and other prose writing.

Sometimes he wrote public poems in the blaring, trumpet mode of a poet laureate. But he also used poetry to respond in a highly personal way to public issues. Keating reminds us that if he was the poet of imperialism, he was also the prophet who saw clearly and warned loudly against the onset of fascism.

His greatest gift was perhaps the most important single cause of the suspicion, if not downright contempt, with which he was regarded by so many serious people. That was his sheer gift for versification, the tripping, beautifully balance six- and seven-foot lines, the internal rhymes, and the fresh-minted, all-too-memorable phrases.

We should not be ashamed to roll them off our tongues. Hackneyed they may be to the absolute verge of inanition. But dead as language, astonishingly, after nearly a hundred years of overuse and misuse, and after the world that evoked them has almost vanished, they are emphatically not.

Take these lines, for instance: 'And what should they know of England who only England know?' 'The colonel's lady an' Judy O'Grady are sisters under the skin]' 'The flannelled fools at the wicket or the muddled oafs at the goals'.

It was a prodigious talent, to spin off phrases that could be read in the study or sung from the music hall stage. The closest to it in our century, perhaps, was poor Bertolt Brecht, and the laureate of imperialism and the troubadour of revolution have this in common, that they both dipped deep into the rhythms of popular song and the language of the street and

the bar.

But Kipling was not only, not mainly, a music hall poet, a stamper out of shiny little discs of language. No one could construct a poem more tightly so that the structure reinforced the rhythms and the bright glinting of the chosen words. Few poetic artists have tamed a natural gift, not out of fear of where it might lead, but to make it serve great gifts of speculative intellect.

Peter Keating analyses, not because he singles it out as a masterpiece or even as a specially interesting poem, the changes Kipling made in a poem he originally dashed off to accompany a series of travel articles in a newspaper. It deserves quoting, both because of its charm, and because it illustrates how, even when he was far from at the peak of his moral range, Kipling could take a simple idea and transform it as a conscious artist into a wholly accessible, but at the same time authentically poetic defence of the once much despised tradition of realism:

When Earth's last picture is painted and the tubes are twisted and dried

When the oldest colours have faded, and the youngest critic has died,

We shall rest, and, faith, we shall need it - lie down an aeon or two

Then the Master of all Good Workmen shall put us to work anew.

And those that were good shall be happy: they shall sit in a golden chair;

They shall splash at a ten-league canvas with brushes of comets' hair.

And only The Master shall praise us, and only The Master shall blame;

And no one shall work for money,

and no one shall work for fame,

But each for the joy of working, and each, in his separate star,

Shall draw the Thing as he sees It for the God of Things as They are]

Readers, I suspect, have always, instinctively, loved work like that, and the many, many finer things that Kipling wrote. They were persuaded that they ought to be ashamed of loving it. There never was any reason to be ashamed. The critics and the poets they preferred are both on the farther shore, gesticulating faintly and in vain, like the shades in Virgil's underworld.

Kipling's voice, like few others, still comes loud and honest from that time that has gone by, insistent and unmistakeable, often vulgar and sometimes noble. Now we are free to love him as the best of him deserves.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Summer nights: ‘Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp’
TVBut what do we Brits really know about them?
Arts and Entertainment
Dr Michael Mosley is a game presenter

TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
    Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
    Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

    Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

    Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
    Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

    Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

    The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
    Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

    Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

    His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

    Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future