“The Driver ‘e give nothin’
‘cept a little coughin’ grunt,
But ’e swung ’is ’orses ’andsome when it came to ‘Action Front!’
An’ if one wheel was juicy, you may lay your Monday head
’Twas juicier for the niggers when the case began to spread.”
The brutality in this incident is forced in idea and expression beyond anything we find in Soldiers Three. It is this continuous forcing of idea and expression which persists in virtually all Mr Kipling’s verse except where the jingle is all that matters. We have only to recall recitations from the platform or before the curtain of some of Mr Kipling’s popular poetry to realise, sometimes a little painfully, that verse is for him not a threshold of the authentic Hall of Song, but, too often, a door out of reality into the sentimental and overwrought.
Comparing the soldier tales and the soldier songs it is often possible, however, to miss the author’s flagging, because, as we have seen, the soldier songs are the best songs, whereas the soldier tales are not the best tales. The full extent of the inferiority of Mr Kipling’s verse to Mr Kipling’s prose cannot, however, be missed if we compare the finer grain of Mr Kipling’s prose with the poems that deal with similar themes. Read first The Story of Ung (The Seven Seas) and afterwards the tale of the Flint Man found upon the Downs by Dan and Una (Rewards and Fairies). Or, to take an even more telling instance, recall the most perfect of all Mr Kipling’s tales The Miracle of Purun Bhagat, and afterwards read the poem that is proudly set at the head of it:
“The night we felt the earth would
We stole and plucked him by the hand,
Because we loved him with the love
That knows but cannot understand.
“And when the roaring hillside broke,
And all our world fell down in rain,
We saved him, we the Little Folk;
But lo! he does not come again!
“Mourn now, we saved him for the
Of such poor love as wild ones may.
Mourn ye! Our brother will not wake,
And his own kind drive us away!”
—Dirge of the Langurs.
The poem is excellent cold craft, but leaves us precisely in the state of mind in which it found us. The story which follows it is rooted in the same idea; but, where the one is a literary exercise, the other is a supreme feat of imagination.
Here, with The Miracle of Purun Bhagat, the story itself and not the dirge of the Langurs, we may conveniently leave the reputation of our author. Critics of a future generation may need to apologise for including within the limits of a brief monograph a specific chapter upon Mr Kipling’s verse. They will not need to apologise for its brevity.