Literature, Quote of the Day

“You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din!”

One of my favorite authors, Rudyard Kipling, died 85 years ago today. Eighty-five years. Lord, not all that long ago. I’m within two decades of that lived milestone myself. (I’m 66, for those of you who are keeping track, or who’d like to weigh in on what an irrelevant old hag I am.) On that day (January 18, 1936), almost all the members of my family–Mum, Dad, aunties and uncles, grandparents, etc.–who formed my early life experiences and values had been born and were very much alive. I remember them all.

These days, it’s fashionable to criticize, or even cancel, Kipling for his supposedly “racist” views, and because he expressed them in the decades before I was born, in a different time and in a different world. We now live in a world in which the ability to express “black and brown” voices is somehow contingent on the requirement that other, “white” voices be suppressed and deleted. “Better, or worse?” to phrase it in the language that my optician uses when he’s giving me the option to tell him which version of the eye chart might best indicate the state of my failing vision and the need to move towards a stronger prescription.

Easy answer, that.

Worse. Suppression of voices is always worse. And never more so than in an historical context when, for “better or worse” they have already been documented, and, for “better or worse” they are already on the record. How else should we recognize the mistakes of the past than by facing them? How does canceling or deleting them help in that endeavor? Pro tip: It doesn’t. But it does at least remove the pretense that our ideas should engage with intellectual rigor to overcome ideas we may find distasteful, and it makes it easier to proclaim (what I am pretty sure, given human nature, is temporary) victory.

Rudyard Kipling lost a son in WWI. By all current shibboleths, this should give him absolute moral authority in anything he says from that point on. But, no. His ideas aren’t popular from the standpoint of the culturally ignorant.

Poor man. And poor family.

Without further ado, I append one of his most famous poems, one I’ve written about before, and one which the Left would much prefer to cancel. Please let me know if you find it somehow offensive. I’d love to chat.

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

1 thought on ““You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din!””

  1. Another excellent post. Thank you, I heartedly concur. And, as a woman, I do not feel excluded when he says, ‘you’ll be a man, my son’. We could all do with a bit more of this outlook and and living by the Golden Rule.

Leave a Reply Cancel reply