The Gods of the Copybook Headings
"The Gods of the Copybook Headings" is a poem published by Rudyard Kipling in 1919, which, editor Andrew Rutherford said, contained "age-old, unfashionable wisdom" that Kipling saw as having been forgotten by society and replaced by "habits of wishful thinking."
The "copybook headings" to which the title refers were proverbs or maxims, extolling age old wisdom - virtues such as honesty or fair dealing that were printed at the top of the pages of 19th-century British students' special notebooks, called copybooks. The school-children had to write them by hand repeatedly down the page. However, the marketplaces were areas that dishonesty and immorality ruled. The Gods (or principles) of the marketplace represent selfishness, reckless progress, over-indulgence and a failure to learn from the past.
The work has been described as "beautifully captur[ing] the thinking of Schumpeter and Keynes." David Gilmour says that while topics of the work are the "usual subjects", the commentary "sound better in verse" while Alice Ramos says that they are "far removed from Horace's elegant succinctness" but do "make the same point with some force."
The Gods of the Copybook Headings
- AS I PASS through my incarnations in every age and race,
- I make my proper prostrations to the Gods of the Market Place.
- Peering through reverent fingers I watch them flourish and fall,
- And the Gods of the Copybook Headings, I notice, outlast them all.
- We were living in trees when they met us. They showed us each in turn
- That Water would certainly wet us, as Fire would certainly burn:
- But we found them lacking in Uplift, Vision and Breadth of Mind,
- So we left them to teach the Gorillas while we followed the March of Mankind.
- We moved as the Spirit listed. They never altered their pace,
- Being neither cloud nor wind-borne like the Gods of the Market Place,
- But they always caught up with our progress, and presently word would come
- That a tribe had been wiped off its icefield, or the lights had gone out in Rome.
- With the Hopes that our World is built on they were utterly out of touch,
- They denied that the Moon was Stilton; they denied she was even Dutch;
- They denied that Wishes were Horses; they denied that a Pig had Wings;
- So we worshipped the Gods of the Market Who promised these beautiful things.
- When the Cambrian measures were forming, They promised perpetual peace.
- They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.
- But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe,
- And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "Stick to the Devil you know."
- On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promised the Fuller Life
- (Which started by loving our neighbour and ended by loving his wife)
- Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith,
- And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "The Wages of Sin is Death."
- In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
- By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
- But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
- And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "If you don't work you die."
- Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew
- And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true
- That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four
- And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more.
- As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man
- There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.
- That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
- And the burnt Fool's bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;
- And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
- When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
- As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
- The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!
- Andrew Rutherford (ed.). War Stories and Poems - Rudyard Kipling,. Retrieved 2012-12-11.
- John C. Bogle (2010-10-26). Don't Count on It!: Reflections on Investment Illusions, Capitalism, "Mutual ... Retrieved 2012-12-11.
- David Gilmour. The Long Recessional: The Imperial Life of Rudyard Kipling. Retrieved 2012-12-11.
- Alice Ramos. Beauty, Art, and the Polis. Retrieved 2012-12-11.
|Wikisource has original text related to this article:|
- Full Text at kipling.org.uk
- The Gods of the Copybook Headings by Rudyard Kipling, 1865-1936 (includes a reading in MP3 format)