American scholar Thomas Pinney, professor emeritus of English at Pomona College in Claremont, California, recently unearthed a number of lost poems by the late British writer Rudyard Kipling.
They were finally published alongside more than 1,000 others in the three-volume Cambridge Edition of The Poems of Rudyard Kipling – the first ever complete edition of Kipling’s verse – several weeks ago.
Pinney found the dozens of previously unpublished poems spread far and wide in various locations. Some were reportedly hidden amongst family papers while others were found in a New York house during renovations. Still others were discovered in the archive of a former head of the Cunard Line.
The manuscripts certainly got around. But then, so did Kipling.
Born in Mumbai (then Bombay), he was the son of British nationals living and working in British India. He was sent to England for schooling, as was the custom, when he was five years old and spent the rest of his early childhood in a Portsmouth boarding home.
Kipling returned to British India as a teenager where he wrote for an English-language newspaper. He then traveled extensively through what is now Burma, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Japan before embarking on a thorough tour of the United States and Canada, writing articles about his travels and rubbing shoulders with the likes of Mark Twain. Having reached the east coast, Kipling crossed the Atlantic and settled briefly in London before circling back to New England and living for several more years in America. He and his family ultimately returned to Old England, living in Devon and finally East Sussex.
Kipling is, of course, best known as the author of The Jungle Book and the poems Mandalay and If. The latter has frequently been voted Britain’s favorite poem by the public and is considered by many to be a particularly adept expression of iconic British “stiff upper lip” stoicism. It is, more or less, a Keep Calm and Carry On poster in poem form.
Speaking of wartime propaganda, several of the newly discovered poems date from World War I. Kipling was initially and famously a strong supporter of British involvement in the conflict, and he backed up his enthusiasm by helping his young son John to gain a commission in the Irish Guards despite the fact that the boy had been repeatedly deemed medically unfit.
But after John’s death at the Battle of Loos in 1915 (aged 18), Kipling sorely regretted much of his earlier zeal. These new poems will help shed further light on the evolution of Kipling’s opinions in the wake of his son’s death – an evolution that culminated in his writing, in his “Epitaphs of the War”: “If any question why we died / Tell them, because our fathers lied”.
That sentiment may resonate poignantly with war-weary Americans and Brits today, though we are nearly a century removed from the remorse experienced by Kipling and his contemporaries.
Another of the newly discovered poems, entitled The Press, is also a testament to Kipling’s astonishing relevancy. It is a scathing denunciation of media ethics and tabloid journalism that could have very well been written in 2009 just as easily as it was in 1899.
The Guardian has published it in full here.