Book Review: 100 Poems: Old and New Rudyard Kipling

Oh, do not despise the advice of the wise,
Learn wisdom from those that are older,
And don’t try for things that are out of your reach –
An’ that’s what the Girl told the Soldier

–At the back of Knightsbridge Barricks.

100 Poems by Rudyard Kipling

100 Poems: Old and New Rudyard Kipling selected and edited by Thomas Pinney is a selection of Kipling poems from 1882 through 1935. Pinney is an Emeritus Professor of English at Pomona College. He has written book on American wine and this year released The Cambridge Edition of the Poems of Rudyard Kipling which is the first complete set of Kipling poems. 

Kipling is known through his work to most children for the The Jungle Book. I will admit that up to a few years ago this was all I really knew of Kipling. Since then I have read Kim as part of my Noble winners reading list. This collection of poetry includes old and new poems; not the chronological sense but as old, meaning familiar, and new, meaning unfamiliar. Pinney states in the introduction that this volume contains the twenty-five poems in every collection of Kipling poems plus seventy-five that have never appeared together in a single volume. Of the twenty-five old poems, although not identified, I knew three: “If”, “White Man’s Burden”, and “Danny Deever.” “Danny Deever” I remember from seventh grade English class. “If”, I knew in bits and pieces, but I am not sure from where. “White Man’s Burden” I remember from history class as a warning. Originally a warning to his own country of England concerning empire, but later changed and made for the United States and its territorial gains in the Philippines. 

This collection was nearly all new to me so I was unable to discern the old from the new. The poems are arranged chronologically in the collection. This collection covers many topics. India is covered in several poems, including the powerful“The Law of the Jungle.” There are poems with math, algebra. Six poems concern different types of fruit. Some poems are of history, and ancient history. A few poems are about months and seasons. 

The military is the subject of several poems too. The excerpt of the poem that starts this review is a military poem and perhaps the most telling poem of the military back then (and even for many now)is “Tommy”. Tommy was slang for a British soldiers and was particularly used in WWI. So much so that Germans would call out “Tommy” across no man’s land when they want to speak to a British soldier. In this poem, the solder is not allowed to enter a bar to drink, nor allowed to enter a theater. There is room for drunk civilians but not sober soldiers. People mock the uniform that guards them while they sleep. The soldier is always left behind until:

But it’s “Please walk in front, sir” when there’s trouble in the wind–
There’s trouble in the wind, my boys, there’s trouble in the wind,
Oh, it’s “please walk in front, sir,” when there’s trouble in the wind. 

But it’s “Saviour of ‘is country” when the guns begin to shoot.

Pinney puts together a very good selection of poetry. For someone not knowing much about Kipling, I learned quite a bit and was equally impressed. Although some of the poems may be dated, which the historian in me liked, most bear the burden of time very well. He writes at a time from when England ruled the world, to the point when their empire was collapsing into a commonwealth. It was a period of great change for England and some of that change is reflected in the poetry. A very good collection well worth the read.


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