The Men Lost Reason And Faith

It’s Poetry Day, and today’s featured poem is “The Gods of the Copybook Headings” by Rudyard Kipling. I’ve posted this poem at least twice before, most recently just two years ago. However, it’s worth revisiting for two reasons: (1) This is its centennial — it was written in 1919 — and (2) the dénouement outlined in the final two stanzas is that much closer to becoming a grim reality.

It’s a remarkable work. It was written at the dawn of the Socialist Age, after the Bolshevik Revolution but before the height of the Red Terror. The welfare states of the West were in their earliest phase, as were the Culture Wars, as exemplified by the emancipation of women. The poet refers to the confluence of these trends as the “brave new world” — more than a decade before Aldous Huxley borrowed the phrase from Shakespeare (The Tempest, Act V, Scene 1) as the title of his novel.

As we look back on “The Gods of the Copybook Headings” a century later, Mr. Kipling seems to have had an uncanny sense of the shape of things to come (to borrow a title from H.G. Wells, one of the renowned Progressives of his time).

Normally I don’t explain poetry, but a hundred years have passed since it was written, so a little context is in order. The underlying social fabric is that of the Edwardian era, which still ruled the British zeitgeist immediately after the Great War, even though George V was by then on the throne. The great changes that lay ahead in the twenties had already been mapped out by the fashionable intellectual preoccupations of the early 20th century.

A “copybook heading” was an inspirational adage or quote from literature that was written at the top of the page of a schoolboy’s notebook. He would be required to copy it repeatedly in order to improve both his penmanship and his character.

The Gods of the Copybook Headings are here contrasted with the Gods of the Market-Place. Rather than the modern economic meaning of the latter term, think of the agora — the central public space in a city-state where commerce, culture, ideas, and personalities meet and mix. The Gods of the Market-Place were thus the gods of fashions and fads, as opposed to the timeless wisdom and common sense of the Gods of the Copybook Headings.

Three specific fashionable trends are laid out in successive stanzas in the middle of the poem. The first is the disarmament movement, which was just getting up a head of steam after the end of the war. Pacifism became a major political force later on in the twenties and thirties, so much so that it inhibited British rearmament, and thus allowed Adolf Hitler to act out his ambitions more forthrightly than he might otherwise have been able to do.

The second trend was “Free Love”, which was intertwined with the early feminist movement. Sexual freedom was considered a major factor in the liberation of women from the shackles of tradition. The Bloomsbury Group and the Fabians were rife with libertinism, H.G. Wells being a notable example. The fashionable sexual ideas that developed among intellectuals in the Edwardian period spread throughout the culture in the ensuing decades.

The third trend was redistributive socialist governance. Modern socialism was in its infancy in 1919, but the Fabians once again had mapped out the process in advance. As the Labour Party took form in the 1920s, the Fabians and other upper-middle-class socialists looked to the Soviet Union for inspiration.

All of this was just getting started when Mr. Kipling wove it into his poem in 1919. And everything has unfolded as he described in the hundred years since. The same foolishness that was fashionable in 1919 is still fashionable in 2019 — only in a much more deranged and nihilistic form. The burned fool’s bandaged finger just keeps wobbling back to that fire, over and over again.

Rudyard Kipling did not include in his poem what has become the major accelerant of the collapse of Western Civilization: mass immigration from the Third World. But it may be implicit the lines “when we disarmed They sold us / and delivered us bound to our foe”. In this post-modern world we live in a hundred years later, our foe is being delivered to us in our bound and helpless state.

And now for the poem:

The Gods of the Copybook Headings
by Rudyard Kipling

As I pass through my incarnations
            in every age and race,
I make my proper prostrations
            to the Gods of the Market-Place.
Peering through reverent fingers
            I watch them flourish and fall,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings,
            I notice, outlast them all.

We were living in trees when they met us.
            They showed us each in turn
That Water would certainly wet us,
            as Fire would certainly burn:
But we found them lacking in Uplift,
            Vision and Breadth of Mind,
So we left them to teach the Gorillas
            while we followed the March of Mankind.

We moved as the Spirit listed.
            They never altered their pace,
Being neither cloud nor wind-borne
            like the Gods of the Market-Place;
But they always caught up with our progress,
            and presently word would come
That a tribe had been wiped off its icefield,
            or the lights had gone out in Rome.

With the Hopes that our World is built on
            they were utterly out of touch.
They denied that the moon was Stilton;
            they denied she was even Dutch.
They denied that Wishes were Horses;
            they denied that a Pig had Wings.
So we worshipped the Gods of the Market
            Who promised these beautiful things.

When the Cambrian measures were forming,
            they promised perpetual peace.
They swore, if we gave them our weapons,
            that the wars of the tribes would cease.
But when we disarmed They sold us
            and delivered us bound to our foe,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said:
            “Stick to the Devil you know.

On the first Feminian Sandstones
            we were promised the Fuller Life
(Which started by loving our neighbour
            and ended by loving his wife)
Till our women had no more children
            and the men lost reason and faith,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said:
            “The Wages of Sin is Death.

In the Carboniferous Epoch
            we were promised abundance for all,
By robbing selected Peter
            to pay for collective Paul;
But though we had plenty of money,
            there was nothing our money could buy,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said:
            “If you don’t work you die.

Then the Gods of the Market tumbled,
            and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew,
And the hearts of the meanest were humbled
            and began to believe it was true,
That All is not Gold that Glitters,
            and Two and Two make Four —
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings
            limped up to explain it once more.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

As it will be in the future,
            it was at the birth of Man —
There are only four things certain
            since Social Progress began —
That the Dog returns to his Vomit
            and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool’s bandaged finger
            goes wobbling back to the Fire;
And that after this is accomplished,
            and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing
            and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us,
            as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings
            with terror and slaughter return!

33 thoughts on “The Men Lost Reason And Faith

  1. Rudyard Kipling makes reference to the truths of the bible…

    2 Peter 2:22 in essence refers to false prophets and the burnt fools wobbling finger to those who follow them

  2. This is rather scary to see how amazingly accurate Kipling’s predictions were. And even with that sort of clear warning, we paid no attention and blundered on, just as we do today. I’ll have to admit, I’ve seen the poem before, but I had no idea what the “gods of the copy books” were. That introduction was invaluable.

    Thank you for this post.

  3. It has been politically incorrect for a long time to read Kipling, even though his writing was steeped in the common sense of an earlier age. I hope I live long enough to be able to read Kipling without being berated by the usual suspects while political correctness is consigned to the trash can of history as it will be eventually.

    • Peter: Go ahead and read Kipling. Also, read Churchill and Twain. To quote the great physicist, Richard Feynman, “Who cares what other people think?”

      I also recommend reading Feynman’s book, by the same title.

  4. Then there’s this one –

    It was not part of their blood,
    It came to them very late
    With long arrears to make good,
    When the English began to hate.

    They were not easily moved,
    They were icy-willing to wait
    Till every count should be proved,
    Ere the English began to hate.

    Their voices were even and low,
    Their eyes were level and straight.
    There was neither sign nor show,
    When the English began to hate.

    It was not preached to the crowd,
    It was not taught by the State.
    No man spoke it aloud,
    When the English began to hate.

    It was not suddenly bred,
    It will not swiftly abate,
    Through the chill years ahead,
    When Time shall count from the date
    That the English began to hate.

    And it’s coming…oh, is it coming.

  5. Amazing how intelligent the English of the early 20th century were and how terrible they are now. They can’t see and understand what’s around them. They must be willfully blind as they couldn’t be that stupid and have passed their exams.

    • Sara – it’s been a “long march” through the verse, and for those who are awakened, to see the tip of stanza 8 looming up on the starboard side.

      Thank you Baron

    • Re: “Amazing how intelligent the English of the early 20th century were and how terrible they are now. They can’t see and understand what’s around them. They must be willfully blind as they couldn’t be that stupid and have passed their exams.”

      The dumbing-down of education is part of the problem, there in Britain just as here in the ‘States, but there is more to it than that. The seeming inability of so many Europeans – Britons included – to see and properly interpret what is going on around them is no accident – but the product of a decades-long campaign of psychological warfare and brainwashing conducted against them by those who wish to transform – if not erase entirely – traditional western civilization.

      There are, thank goodness, still Britons with the same kind of penetrating intellect and incisive logic that their forbearers possessed, men like Pat Condell and the commentator below, Theodore Dalrymple (pen-name of Anthony Daniels, M.D., a psychiatrist). Daniels offers perhaps the best summary yet on what actually is PC and what it is designed to accomplish:

      “In my study of communist societies, I came to the conclusion that the purpose of communist propaganda was not to persuade or convince, not to inform, but to humiliate; and therefore, the less it corresponded to reality the better. When people are forced to remain silent when they are being told the most obvious lies, or even worse when they are forced to repeat the lies themselves, they lose once and for all their sense of probity. To assent to obvious lies is…in some small way to become evil oneself. One’s standing to resist anything is thus eroded, and even destroyed. A society of emasculated liars is easy to control. I think if you examine political correctness, it has the same effect and is intended to.”

      In other words, the ability of Britons to think critically didn’t die a natural death; it was murdered. Intentionally destroyed. Why? Free people have no need of the chains of bondage their would-be masters offer them, whereas people who have been reduced to ignorance and dependency upon others to survive welcome the custodial state and “Big Brother.”

      • Georgiaboy61
        … describes ‘Celebrity’ Big Brother, ‘Celebrity’ in the Jungle: TV series fed to consumers during prime time on the sofa. Starring z-listers and desperate profile seekers prone before The Gods of the Marketplace.
        Such debasement deserves pride of place in Room 101.

  6. It was a better world for thousands of years when Woman stayed home and had children.
    The current experiment is an abject failure and promises, yes DEMANDS, an Orwellian coda of human misery….coming soon to the hamstrung West.

    • There never has been a “better world” — it has never existed. There were pockets of time and place where life might have been placid and productive but they were rare. Disease, war, poverty, crushing labour, and cruelty were far more likely to be the daily norm.

      Women might have stayed home and had children, but their lives were fragile and cheap. Even in 20th century America women and children could be beaten with virtual impunity; their worth was valued less than the male who “went out to work.” It was not a better world.

      We can all look back at our lives and think of better times, here and there, but perhaps those are childish memories that obscure the realities that our families were facing.

      Kipling is telling us that a true better world could be just barely within our reach, but first we must renounce the Gods of the Marketplace, and instead embrace basic truths and values.

      We need to smarten up, and we have precious little time to do it before the inevitable return of “terror and slaughter.”

    • an Orwellian coda of human misery

      A bit of deft word-smithing, ‘tho some might say, “Faustian”.

  7. I was attempting to channel Kipling when I wrote this poem last year.
    The “Saxon” line was my overt hat-tip.

    “Patriots, Traitors and Invaders”

    Here’s a tale of Quisling traitors, sold their country to invaders.
    The first was shot in forty-five, but many more are still alive.
    When was there a referendum, ere our traitors thought to send ’em?
    Rivers of blood would be the cost, Enoch was right, now Britain’s lost.
    Bombs and bullets, acid and knives, vans on pavements destroying lives.
    Showing rape gangs now forbidden, poor old Tommy he’s in prison,
    While to jihadis flats are given, and ISIS killers all forgiven.

    Hitler’s Nazis could not manage, what our Quislings done in damage!
    If Churchill were around today, I’m confident that he would say:
    “In older and more modern time, treason must be capital crime,
    Patriots must be supported, and invaders all deported,
    Till our girls walk unmolested, after British metal’s tested.”
    Will saving Blighty come too late, before the Saxon learns to hate?
    If saving’s coming, it can’t wait, or Islam will be Britain’s fate.

    (Yes, metal. Mettle without metal is just futile resistance.)

  8. Another by Kipling, since the line I referenced above is in this other important poem.

    THE WRATH OF THE AWAKENED SAXON
    by Rudyard Kipling

    It was not part of their blood,
    It came to them very late,
    With long arrears to make good,
    When the Saxon began to hate.

    They were not easily moved,
    They were icy — willing to wait
    Till every count should be proved,
    Ere the Saxon began to hate.

    Their voices were even and low.
    Their eyes were level and straight.
    There was neither sign nor show
    When the Saxon began to hate.

    It was not preached to the crowd.
    It was not taught by the state.
    No man spoke it aloud
    When the Saxon began to hate.

    It was not suddenly bred.
    It will not swiftly abate.
    Through the chilled years ahead,
    When Time shall count from the date
    That the Saxon began to hate.

    • I believe that Kipling wrote ‘English’ not ‘Saxon’. For some reason it has now been changed, possibly to be more appealing to a wider readership.

    • I prefer his “Arithmetic on the Frontier”.

      He was prescient in realizing the futility and waste of precious Western blood and treasure in pursuit of attempting to kinetically pacify endlessly multiplying hordes of orcs in the armpits and anuses of the planet. Of course, he lived in the time before truly effective chemical warfare, biological and genetically engineered superviruses, and nuclear weapons. It is now physically possible to pacify the uncivilized wastelands at a much lower cost in blood and treasure, but without the will to do so, that fact is irrelevent.

      • “Arithmetic on the Frontier”

        A GREAT and glorious thing it is
        To learn, for seven years or so,
        The Lord knows what of that and this,
        Ere reckoned fit to face the foe –
        The flying bullet down the Pass,
        That whistles clear: “All flesh is grass.”

        Three hundred pounds per annum spent
        On making brain and body meeter
        For all the murderous intent
        Comprised in “villainous saltpetre”.
        And after?- Ask the Yusufzaies
        What comes of all our ‘ologies.

        A scrimmage in a Border Station-
        A canter down some dark defile
        Two thousand pounds of education
        Drops to a ten-rupee jezail.
        The Crammer’s boast, the Squadron’s pride,
        Shot like a rabbit in a ride!

        No proposition Euclid wrote
        No formulae the text-books know,
        Will turn the bullet from your coat,
        Or ward the tulwar’s downward blow.
        Strike hard who cares – shoot straight who can
        The odds are on the cheaper man.

        One sword-knot stolen from the camp
        Will pay for all the school expenses
        Of any Kurrum Valley scamp
        Who knows no word of moods and tenses,
        But, being blessed with perfect sight,
        Picks off our messmates left and right.

        With home-bred hordes the hillsides teem.
        The troopships bring us one by one,
        At vast expense of time and steam,
        To slay Afridis where they run.
        The “captives of our bow and spear”
        Are cheap, alas! as we are dear.

        • Strike hard who cares – shoot straight who can

          The odds are on the cheaper man.

          This truism only pertains where life itself is cheap. The year 1945 saw that maxim cut into a U308 tombstone.

          Ask the people of Hiroshima or Nagasaki just how many milliseconds it took before their lives became cheaper than (fused) dirt.

          If nothing serves to intervene, a similar price tag can and will be placed on Muslim souls. Never before in all of human history has Islam been confronted with an issue of such vital self-interest, nor is it being so steadfastly ignored—by aggressor and victim alike.

          Islamic jJahiliyyah continually revises or eradicates history. Empire after caliphate, after kingdom has repeatedly fallen over their inability to learn from either record.

          More than ever before, Islam has the richest imaginable opportunity to carry away from its own actions a wealth of experience. Increasingly, if time teaches us anything, it’s that Muslims shall find that the metronome of sharia’s putative victory march will not be the clicking of jack booted heels, but the flurried ticking of a Geiger-Mueller tube.

      • “Pacify”? You’re writing about the mass extermination of our fellow- humans, however ignorant and even dangerous to our culture; even if such a programme should become necessary (and I don’t believe it is, at least yet), some expression of compassion and regret would be welcome.

        • When an irresistable force meets an immoveable object, what happens?

          You are gambling on the chance that muslims love their children like we do, and that they might be peaceful and rational if we treat them like we want to be treated.

          I do not hope for this to be the outcome but if the choice comes down to complete capitulation of the West to a global caliphate, or the slaughter of my enemies including all who believe in such a cursed ideology, I will grit my teeth and gird my loins and commence slaughtering; or if too old and infirm to do so, I will help forge the weapons and support those younger men who will do so on my behalf.

          I apologize if my cold logic and bluntness regarding the dilemna disturb you.

        • You’re writing about the mass extermination of our fellow- humans…

          Correction. I am typing about Islam’s longstanding invitation for all better-armed entities to make a permanent—just like its doctrinal mandamus of jihad—end to some fifteen hundred years of filth and rapacious predation.

          It cannot be helped (nor avoided) if Islam irrevocably links survival of the Free World to obliterating all Muslim cultures.

          Consider the reciprocal situation: What will remain of Western Civilization if Islam becomes ascendant? Why shouldn’t similar conditions prevail in the countervailing case?

          As ever, Muslims must learn to be very careful about what they wish for. Exactly how much longer must our civilized world be so churlish as to deny the ummah ascension to their collective paradise?

          Whichever fraction of humanity emerges from the Caliphate’s bottleneck will wonder what took so long for Western powers to end this ghoulish farce.

          Plainly put—be it militarily or in the rational world’s free marketplace of beliefs—ISLAM HAS ZERO CHANCE OF SURVIVAL. Pretending otherwise—much less according Muslims any unearned advantage via benefit-of-the-doubt—has become, not only supremely offensive but (in every sense), a GRAVE disservice to mankind’s peaceful contingent.

          Why must that pacific cohort be held accountable for psychotically suicidal Muslim behavior? After all, it’s more than apparent that nuclear dissuasion is a sole option for countless millions who wish to avoid Islam’s withering embrace.

          If you know of any alternatives, then call me a cornfield, because I’m all ears.

  9. Kipling grasped the written word with such tenacity that he transcended his art to become an iconographer.

    It would be most curious to see how many of his catchphrases, like those of Old Bill, remain current in this day and age (if only for, “want of a nail”). As it is, I’m rehearsing an ad lib of his immortal poem, “If…” to rub some local snouts in their own hypocrisy.

  10. The third trend was redistributive socialist governance.

    Can’t you just hear Mao scleaming, “Thild time’s a chalm!”

  11. May I offer my little ditty on the subject, written as an Australian but with a wider application:

    The Test for Australia and the West

    In the thirties and the forties freedom faced a mighty test
    Now another tide of fascism is rising on the West;
    Will we fight as did our fathers, will we brace and do our bit,
    Will we struggle for our freedom or surrender and submit?

    Will we tolerate the violence and the hatred so obscene
    Of the Islamists and Left in their alliances of green?
    Will we follow or denounce our intellectual elite
    As they spit upon our culture while they work for its defeat?

    Will we listen to our media who tell us what to think
    As they white-wash every filthy lie and perfume every stink?
    Yes, the day is fast approaching when we’ll have to make a stand
    If we want to keep our freedom in our Western Southern land.

  12. and here is another stanza:

    Out there is California,
    A new republic has dawned.
    It was not of adventure or conquest,
    but was of liberalism spawned.

    “The old ways are no longer valid,”
    those in power are now wont to say.
    “We are making the final corrections,
    and soon will dawn a new day.”

    The right and wrong you were raised with,
    has now been replaced.
    The structured ways are inverted,
    and now will do an about-face.

    Those who won’t will be dealt with
    and surely many will die.
    Those who agree will live long
    with lives that ae easy as pie.

    Rudyard Kipling was much better at it.

    • Thank you, Edward Bridle .

      Being fed in youth on the pablum of his Just So stories unfortunately inoculated me against deeper readings into Kipling’s work. Sad, too, is the necessary modern de-emphasis upon poetry due to it become, like most modern “art”, sheer dreck.

      I see now that, akin to Old Bill, Rudyard was England’s political Bard. Perhaps he represents a more refractory amalgam of Dickensian conscience and Shakespearean prose. Lost to many who lack a sufficiently wide intellectual vocabulary will be his innumerable literary or historic references and (as I have noted elsewhere) a complex, almost timeless, iconography that populate the landscape of his writings.

      Baron, please consider posting “The Mother Hive” sometime soon. I’ve not read through his whole tale but the allegorical mileposts in its first several paragraphs make crystal clear the story’s parable.

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