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Life in a Special Zone

Two poems by kipling

November 3, 2004

Expats seeking a "Poet Laureate" need look no further than Rudyard Kipling. If you read the chronology (click the link in the left-hand frame here) at Kipling.org, you will see that he both traveled and lived abroad for much of his life, and wrote extensively in all genres of his experience. Here are excerpts:

  • 1865 Born in Bombay

  • 1868 First visit to England

  • 1871 Living in England

  • 1881 Returned to India

  • 1889 Left India to become a roving correspondent. Traveled to Burma, Singapore, Hong Kong and Canton, Japan, and San Francisco. Crossed America, settled in London

  • 1891 Voyage to South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. Returned to live in India

  • 1892 Voyage to Vermont, Japan

  • 1896 Living in England

  • 1898 First of many winter holidays in South Africa, traveled to Rhodesia

  • 1899 Last visit to America

  • 1900 Visit to South Africa

  • 1907 Nobel Prize for Literature. Visit to Canada. 

  • 1913 Visit to Egypt

  • 1927 Voyage to Brazil

  • 1930 Visit to the West Indies and stay of three months in Bermuda

  • 1936 died

I have "borrowed" the two poems below from Kipling.org, and added a link for their notes to "We and They." This poem talks about cultural superiority, a constant challenge to those of us living in "foreign" cultures; the second speaks of the urge that drove us here. Both seem simple at first, but reveal hidden riches on subsequent readings.

I want to add here that one of Kipling's most famous lines, from "The Ballad of East and West," is often misunderstood. Everyone knows:

0h, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet...

But few know the rest of the stanza:

0h, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God's great Judgment Seat;
But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth!

A conjoining of East and West is possible through the encounter of two human beings!

We and They

 

FATHER, Mother, and Me
Sister and Auntie say
All the people like us are We,
And every one else is They.
And They live over the sea,
While We live over the way,
But - would you believe it? - They look upon We 
As only a sort of They!

We eat pork and beef
With cow-horn-handled knives.
They who gobble Their rice off a leaf,
Are horrified out of Their lives;
And They who live up a tree,
And feast on grubs and clay,
(Isn't it scandalous?) look upon We
As a simply disgusting They!

We shoot birds with a gun.
They stick lions with spears.
Their full-dress is un-.
We dress up to Our ears.
They like Their friends for tea.
We like Our friends to stay;
And, after all that, They look upon We 
As an utterly ignorant They!

We eat kitcheny food.
We have doors that latch.
They drink milk or blood,
Under an open thatch.
We have Doctors to fee.
They have Wizards to pay.
And (impudent heathen!) They look upon We
As a quite impossible They!

All good people agree,
And all good people say,
All nice people, like Us, are We
And every one else is They:
But if you cross over the sea,
Instead of over the way,
You may end by (think of it!) looking on We
As only a sort of They!

Text    Notes

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The Explorer

 

"THERE'S no sense in going further - it's the edge of cultivation,"
So they said, and I believed it - broke my land and sowed my crop -
Built my barns and strung my fences in the little border station
Tucked away below the foothills where the trails run out and stop:

Till a voice, as bad as Conscience, rang interminable changes
On one everlasting Whisper day and night repeated - so:
"Something hidden. Go and find it. Go and look behind the Ranges -
"Something lost behind the Ranges. Lost and waiting for you. Go!"

So I went, worn out of patience; never told my nearest neighbours -
Stole away with pack and ponies - left 'em drinking in the town;
And the faith that moveth mountains didn't seem to help my labours
As I faced the sheer main-ranges, whipping up and leading down.

March by march I puzzled through 'em, turning flanks and dodging
        shoulders,
Hurried on in hope of water, headed back for lack of grass;
Till I camped above the tree-line - drifted snow and naked boulders -
Felt free air astir to windward - knew I'd stumbled on the Pass.

'Thought to name it for the finder: but that night the Norther found me -
Froze and killed the plains-bred ponies; so I called the camp Despair
(It's the Railway Gap to-day, though). Then my Whisper waked to hound
        me: -
"Something lost behind the Ranges. Over yonder! Go you there!"

Then I knew, the while I doubted - knew His Hand was certain o'er me.
Still - it might be self-delusion - scores of better men had died -
I could reach the township living, but ... He knows what terror tore me...
But I didn't... but I didn't. I went down the other side.

Till the snow ran out in flowers, and the flowers turned to aloes,
And the aloes sprung to thickets and a brimming stream ran by;
But the thickets dwined to thorn-scrub, and the water drained to
        shallows,
And I dropped again on desert - blasted earth, and blasting sky....

I remember lighting fires; I remember sitting by 'em;
I remember seeing faces, hearing voices, through the smoke;
I remember they were fancy - for I threw a stone to try 'em.
"Something lost behind the Ranges" was the only word they spoke.

I remember going crazy. I remember that I knew it
When I heard myself hallooing to the funny folk I saw.
'Very full of dreams that desert, but my two legs took me through it...
And I used to watch 'em moving with the toes all black and raw.

But at last the country altered - White Man's country past disputing -
Rolling grass and open timber, with a hint of hills behind -
There I found me food and water, and I lay a week recruiting.
Got my strength and lost my nightmares. Then I entered on my find.

Thence I ran my first rough survey - chose my trees and blazed and
        ringed 'em -
Week by week I pried and sampled - week by week my findings grew.
Saul he went to look for donkeys, and by God he found a kingdom!
But by God, who sent His Whisper, I had struck the worth of two!

Up along the hostile mountains, where the hair-poised snowslide shivers-
Down and through the big fat marshes that the virgin ore-bed stains,
Till I heard the mile-wide mutterings of unimagined rivers,
And beyond the nameless timber saw illimitable plains!

'Plotted sites of future cities, traced the easy grades between 'em;
Watched unharnessed rapids wasting fifty thousand head an hour;
Counted leagues of water-frontage through the axe-ripe woods that
        screen 'em -
Saw the plant to feed a people - up and waiting for the power!

Well, I know who'll take the credit - all the clever chaps that followed -
Came, a dozen men together - never knew my desert-fears;
Tracked me by the camps I'd quitted, used the water-holes I hollowed.
They'll go back and do the talking. They'll be called the Pioneers!

They will find my sites of townships - not the cities that I set there.
They will rediscover rivers - not my rivers heard at night.
By my own old marks and bearings they will show me how to get there,
By the lonely cairns I builded they will guide my feet aright.

Have I named one single river? Have I claimed one single acre ? 
Have I kept one single nugget - (barring samples)? No, not I!
Because my price was paid me ten times over by my Maker.
But you wouldn't understand it. You go up and occupy.

Ores you'll find there; wood and cattle; water-transit sure and steady 
(That should keep the railway rates down), coal and iron at your doors.
God took care to hide that country till He judged His people ready,
Then He chose me for His Whisper, and I've found it, and it's yours!

Yes, your "Never-never country" - yes, your "edge of cultivation" 
And "no sense in going further" - till I crossed the range to see.
God forgive me! No, I didn't. It's God's present to our nation.
Anybody have found it, but - His Whisper came to Me! 

Text

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[One thing I look for in a friend is someone who will challenge my perspective and broaden my horizons. I want to thank Mr. Wayne Behlendorf, Savant, for making me look at Kipling again...and again...and again...until I got past the pabulum-like appearance and discovered the meat.]

 

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