1997-04-23: All One Universe

All One Universe (1996)

by Poul Anderson (1926-2001)

This is a collection of stories and essays, with brief introductions by the author. The following is from the essay on Rudyard Kipling; I found it intriguing.

… Kipling bids fair to go on as long as our civilization does. He may well outlive it, as Homer did his.

Anderson quotes the following from Johannes V. Jensen, the Danish writer who interviewed Kipling in Stockholm when he received his Nobel prize:

“You don’t really know where in his face it comes from, but his features laugh, in a strangely loving and grim way, a whisker-smile that only mirrors the sunshine in the world; and as he comes there so noiselessly on his claws, so altogether undangerous, while at the same time you cannot help noticing how his head is shaped around violent instincts–Kipling’s head is not large but singularly full, as if the Lord God had distended it to the utmost while blowing the breath of life into him–when all these features gather before the imagination, it suddenly strikes through that of course this is Bagheera! The black panther, the affectionate beast of prey in The Jungle Book is, more than any other incarnation, Kipling himself. The coal-black brows, the small dark and hairy hands, the massive jaw with cleft chin, everything, yes, indeed, Bagheera.”

In speaking of Kipling’s poetry, he mentions Orwell’s opinion:

If I bring up Orwell again, it is not to belabor a man whose memory I respect, but because he is worthy of rebuttal rather than shrugging off. He called Kipling a “good bad poet” and went on: “But what is the peculiarity of a good bad poem? It records in memorable form–for verse is a mnemonic device, among other things–some emotion which very nearly every human being can share.” The implication seems to be that this is, if not contemptible, much less meaningful than something more esoteric.

A.E. Houseman did not take that mandarin attitude. He defined poetry, as opposed to mere verse, operationally, saying that he would recite lines to himself in the morning while shaving, and if they made the hair stand up they were poetry.

Anderson particularly mentions “The Gods of the Copybook Headings”, “The Song of the Red Warboat”. He closes with:

… In his later years Kipling as a writer, like Beethoven as a composer, went into realms entirely his own, where no fellow maker has quite been able to follow. Readers and listeners can, though they will never know how far they got and will ever afterward be haunted. Yet what strange treasures they bring back.

He repeatedly declined a knighthood, and gave his reasons, I think, in “The Last Rhyme of True Thomas.” It ends:

I ha’ harpit ye up to the Throne o’ God,
I ha’ harpit your midmost soul in three.
I ha’ harpit ye down to the Hinges o’ Hell,
And–ye–would–make–a Knight o’ me!

There are other interesting stories and essays in the book, but this is something I wanted to remember.

[The date of this book report is probably incorrect; the date in the original file was 1994-04-23, earlier than the book reported. I semi-arbitrarily moved it to the year after publication.]

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