In the early years of Kiplings poetic carrier he developed from a skillful versifier to a serious poet. In one of his earliest poems “Reading the Will” we can find hints of the kind of vivid detail that wood soon characterize his poetry (Page, Norman). Describing people in terms of “ferret-eyed women and keen-faced men” displayed his ability of depicting detail. The lines, “and scarcely the bell had ceased to toll” and “the outer surface of weepers and veils” depict his ability to versify. We can attribute this capability of his, to his unfaltering instinct of choosing the right word to depict the myriad details of a scene in a perfect way (Lawrence, Frederic). Thus this poem though clever in versification does not have any personal voice of Kipling in it. As we read his next collection of poems Departmental Ditties ones attention falls on one particular piece of verse, “The Last Department”. Sir William Hunter – one of his earliest critics – singled out this piece of verse for special consideration praising Kiplings skills and recognizing Kiplings capability of writing much greater work. In this poem Kipling depicts death as the “last department” and expresses happiness about the fact that after ones death nothing “shall trouble [him/her] again”. The reality of freedom from confrontation with fools or frauds and freedom from greed and caste differences places him in a blissful state of mind. In this poem he also divulges the grim reality of life that all people, no matter how much importance they carry during their lifetime, end up forgotten after their death and that very few people have the potential to create a void after their death. Lines like “to the grim Head who claims our services” and “trust me, To-days Most Indispensables” again depict his unflappable capability of finding and placing the right words at the right place. But unlike “Reading the Will” this poem reflects Kiplings deep insight into life. Thus with these two early poems Kipling establishes himself as a poet and begins an illustrious poetic career spanning five decades.
As Kipling grew as a poet he branched out into different forms of poetry becoming one of the best ballad writers of all time. “Mandalay” and “The Ballad of the East and West”, two of his best ballads, can justify this claim without leaving any room for doubt.. “Mandalay” one of Kiplings most effective and haunting ballad expresses his sensuous response to life in the East (Page, Norman). The soldier in this poem hates the cold weather of England and wants his superiors to send him “somewhere east of Suez”. He wishes that someone might call him to the east and he might get a chance to go back to the “spicy garlic [odor]” and the “tinkly temple-bells.” Through the use of such imagery he creates a beautiful atmosphere prevalent in the east, arises a sense of love for the eastern nations and generates a longing for living there. Through this poem he not only makes the world view India, but touch it and even breathe it. By repeating the phrase “on the road to Mandalay” throughout the poem he creates a haunting impression in the mind of the reader of this town somewhere in India. Reading this ballad in its languorous, slow-moving refrain creates a melody of its own (Page, Norman). While “Mandalay” showcases the countrys of the east, “The Ballad of the East and West” depicts the differences present between the east and west even though uniformity in human nature subsists around the world. This ballad gives the English language one of its most famous phrases – “east is east, and west is west, and never the twain shall meet”. This phrase alone has led to the castigation of Kipling as a racist (Page, Norman). But a misinterpretation stems from delineating Kipling as a racist on the basis of this ballad, as this ballad tries to depict equanimity among all men. Here he depicts the differences in a white and brown man through two soldiers, both fighting for what they believe in. Both these soldiers give up their thirst for each others blood once they “[gazed at] each other between the eyes” as they find that the virtue of bravery adorns both of them. The two soldiers recognize and respect each others purpose and sense of duty. In this ballad Kipling also displays his ability to create life like characters through “Kamal” and “The Colonels son”. Through the use of imagery and witty verse he makes both of these fictional characters come alive. This quality of his comes out as one of the greatest gifts of Kipling which he uses to create infinitely various characters through out his works (Lawrence, Frederic). These ballads depict Kiplings simplicity of purpose and consummate gift of word, phrase, and rhythm (Eliot, T.S.). These ballads also showcase Kiplings ability to devise variety of form and keep each ballad distinct from the other (Eliot, T.S.). Thus concludes his early literary period which ends indicating the potential of this poet to create beautiful verse.
The middle period of his poetry, through poems like “Recessional”, “The White Mans Burden” and “If”, gained him the recognition and critical acclaim by which he claims the title of a poet in the world today. Each of these poems have led to a great deal of controversy and deserve special and individual attention. “Recessional” by far comes out the best among the three. On the strength of this poem alone T.S.Eliot called Kipling the greatest hymn writer. “Recessional” serves as a warning against Englands precarious position in trade and against the complacency setting in to the British Empire (Henn, T.R.) . Kipling warns about Englands “Dominion” where Australia and Canada act as its poles (Henn, T.R.). He expresses his fear about the possibility of England loosing “all [its] pomp of yesterday” and loosing all control over the colonies. Due to the phrase, “such boastings as the gentiles use, Or lesser breeds without the Law”, critics have termed Kipling as an imperialist (Page, Norman). But as Kipling intends to discriminate between those who humbly submit to the law and those who arrogantly over-ride the law , the interpretation of this line as a discrimination between the people living in England and people living in colonies proves as a fatal error in analysis (Henn, T.R.). Thus only a conscious observer of political and social affairs can fathom the meaning of this poem at a deeper level than what meet the eye (Eliot, T.S.). In this way, “Recessional” forms one of the most important poems written by Kipling in his lifetime. Unlike “Recessional”, “The White Mans burden” depicts the advantages of the British empire and the positive side of imperialism through expressing the responsibilities of the empire towards its colonies (Page, Norman). As “Recessional” this poem too brought upon Kipling the title of a racist. But because in this verse he repeatedly emphasizes the injustice in rightfully regarding one superior to another on the basis of race or origin, the qualities of a racist abide far away from him (Maguills Critical Survey of Poetry). By writing phrases like “fill full the mouth of famine” and asking to “serve [their] captives need(s)” , Kipling points out the responsibility of England towards its colonies. Kiplings belief, that England needs to keep on supporting and providing for the colonies, arises from his belief that providing independence to colonies at this point of time would lead to their ruin. Kipling also depicts the need for sending forth the best of men to serve the needs of England. Thus though imperialistic, this poem of Kipling emphasizes not race, but the obligation of Europeans and Americans to the oppressed people of the world (Maguills Critical Survey of Poetry). While “Recessional” and “The White Mans burden” deal with politics, “If” deals with the virtues of humans. “If” ,written as a pendant to the story “Brothers Square-Toes,” in Rewards and Fairies, deals with the misunderstandings and public pressures that confront statesmen, the ability to master of ones dreams and thoughts and the capacity to take triumphs and loses in the stride without complaining (Henn, T.R.). This poem offers certain moral propositions – courage, reticent stoicism and supreme value of work (Henn, T.R.). Describing a persons ability to resist ones emotions even when a “loving [friend]” perpetrates an atrocity, as a virtue gives an ironical meaning to “loving friends” and suggests a quality of friendship less than the generally desired level, proves as the one flaw that plagues this poem (Henn, T.R.). This flaw offsets itself by the poems ability to relate to the moral values of plain-folks. Thus through these three poems Kipling achieves the pinnacle of his poetic genius displaying his ability to reach the simple-folk as well as the literary elite.
As he grew older in the last two decades of his life barring the exception of a few poems he produced poetry of diminishing quality though still retaining his wit and versification genius. In the one exception of this period , “The Female of the Species”, Kipling coined another one of his phrases used frequently thereafter in English Language – “the female of the species is more deadly than the male”. This poem displays the immense ability of observation with which God blessed Kipling and the vast knowledge of animals that Kipling retained. In this poem, he compares the male and female in the Himalayan bear, in the King Cobra and even in humans and every time aggressiveness and fearlessness characterizes the female of the species. He informs us that the “she-bear fights” and the “[she] cobra bites” their enemies. He also depicts the woman as the one who “commands” and “enthral(s)” ma, and that man comes out as nothing but puppets in womens hands. This poem has no undertone and like many of his other poems displays the lack of subtlety that plagues his poems and produces doubts about his poetic abilities. But nevertheless the choice of the topic itself displays his wit and the rhyme used in the poem intensifies the effect of his verse. As he grew older his poetry began to depict his preoccupation with disease and sufferings (Page, Norman). Two of his poems “Hymn of Physical pain” and “Hymn of Breaking Strain” depict Kiplings preoccupation with strain, breakdown, and recovery (Page, Norman). In the “Hymn of Physical Pain” he displays his weariness of the “forgetfulness” that accompanies old age. The thought of “pains of Hell” make him afraid and he desperately wants to keep away from them. Here he depicts the woes that accompany old age and expresses his fear of death. In “Hymn of Breaking Strain” he divulges his disbelief in the mercy of God. He has the impression that God has no emotional attachment of “justice towards mankind” and that God has no “laid course” for our lives. He asserts that the Almighty tends to lay on us more pressures than we can bear and so we break down under trying circumstances. But he restores his faith in God in the later part of the poem and justifies the actions of God by explaining them as the only way that men can get a chance to rise again and build a new life. This relates to the cycle of life and death. In both these hymns, Kipling once again displays his versification abilities through lines like “Dread Mother of Forgetfulness Who, when Thy reign begins”, “Instant upon the false release – The Worm and Fire renew” and “Oh, veiled and secret Power Whose paths we seek in vein”. Thus both these hymn display Kiplings obsession with death that marred his later life. In this way we can conclude that though in the later part of his life Kipling did not produce any great works he did contribute significantly to poetry and its development.
Four major themes for the meeting have been identified:
• Kipling: A post-colonial assessment. To what extent should he be assessed as imperialist or racist; how much of his writing was ‘of its time? Can the techniques that show up perhaps most in Mrs Bathurst be said to herald a deconstructionist literature? Did Kiplings views of India and Empire mirror the public perception or mould it?
• Kipling and women. Can Kipling be justly accused of representing only male interest? Is his treatment of women inevitably of his time and age? How apt is Mary Postgate as feminist literature?
• Kipling and film. In his later years Kipling contracted with various Hollywood film companies to prepare scripts of his own stories. Others adapted his work to the screen – from Captains Courageous to The Jungle Book.. How do these compare with the stage adaptations he himself made? An assessment of his significance to the cinema.
• Kipling in translation. Rudyard Kiplings work is loved in many countries, translated into French, German, Russian, etc. Do these versions (and their readers) throw additional light on the authors works? How can the niceties of dialect and speech survive translation?