Today’s Kipling – Hymn of Breaking Strain

(This was one of the last poems written by Rudyard Kipling, and it proves he still had it as a poet. Written the year before his death in 1935, it is evidence that he saved the best for last. It is one of the reasons I consider him poet-laureate of engineers.)

Hymn of Breaking Strain

1935

Rudyard Kipling

THE careful text-books measure
(Let all who build beware!)
The load, the shock, the pressure
Material can bear.
So, when the buckled girder
Lets down the grinding span,
‘The blame of loss, or murder,
Is laid upon the man.
Not on  the Stuff – the Man!

But in our daily dealing
With stone and steel, we find
The Gods have no such feeling
Of justice toward mankind.
To no set gauge they make us-
For no laid course prepare-
And presently o’ertake us
With loads we cannot bear:
Too merciless to bear.

The prudent text-books give it
In tables at the end
‘The stress that shears a rivet
Or makes a tie-bar bend-
‘What traffic wrecks macadam-
What concrete should endure-
but we, poor Sons of Adam
Have no such literature,
To warn us or make sure!

We hold all Earth to plunder –
All Time and Space as well-
Too wonder-stale to wonder
At each new miracle;
Till, in the mid-illusion
Of Godhead ‘neath our hand,
Falls multiple confusion
On all we did or planned-
 The mighty works we planned.

We only of Creation
(0h, luckier bridge and rail)
Abide the twin damnation-
To fail and know we fail.
Yet we – by which sole token
We know we once were Gods-
Take shame in being broken
However great the odds-
The burden or the Odds.

Oh, veiled and secret Power
Whose paths we seek in vain,
Be with us in our hour
Of overthrow and pain;
That we – by which sure token
We know Thy ways are true –
In spite of being broken,
Because of being broken
May rise and build anew
Stand up and build anew.

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Today’s Kipling – Troopin’

Troopin’

(Our Army in the East)

Rudyard Kipling

Troopin’, troopin’, troopin’ to the sea:
‘Ere’s September come again — the six-year men are free.
O leave the dead be’ind us, for they cannot come away
To where the ship’s a-coalin’ up that takes us ‘ome to-day.
We’re goin’ ‘ome, we’re goin’ ‘ome,
Our ship is at the shore,
An’ you must pack your ‘aversack,
For we won’t come back no more.
Ho, don’t you grieve for me,
My lovely Mary-Ann,
For I’ll marry you yit on a fourp’ny bit
As a time-expired man.

The Malabar’s in ‘arbour with the ~Jumner~ at ‘er tail,
An’ the time-expired’s waitin’ of ‘is orders for to sail.
Ho! the weary waitin’ when on Khyber ‘ills we lay,
But the time-expired’s waitin’ of ‘is orders ‘ome to-day.

They’ll turn us out at Portsmouth wharf in cold an’ wet an’ rain,
All wearin’ Injian cotton kit, but we will not complain;
They’ll kill us of pneumonia — for that’s their little way —
But damn the chills and fever, men, we’re goin’ ‘ome to-day!

Troopin’, troopin’, winter’s round again!
See the new draf’s pourin’ in for the old campaign;
Ho, you poor recruities, but you’ve got to earn your pay —
What’s the last from Lunnon, lads? We’re goin’ there to-day.

Troopin’, troopin’, give another cheer —
‘Ere’s to English women an’ a quart of English beer.
The Colonel an’ the regiment an’ all who’ve got to stay,
Gawd’s mercy strike ’em gentle — Whoop! we’re goin’ ‘ome to-day.
We’re goin’ ‘ome, we’re goin’ ‘ome,
Our ship is at the shore,
An’ you must pack your ‘aversack,
For we won’t come back no more.
Ho, don’t you grieve for me,
My lovely Mary-Ann,
For I’ll marry you yit on a fourp’ny bit
As a time-expired man.


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TOTD 2-12-2018: How Myths Arise

You have probably heard the story about Polish lancers making a cavalry charge against a German panzer battalion in the opening days of the Nazi invasion of Poland. Men on horses armed with spears attacking tanks. Often the one telling the story will claim they saw a newsreel of it.

You might also have heard it never happened. That is true. It is a great story, but Polish lancers never charged that Panzer unit. It was a myth. The Poles had horse cavalry in 1939 (so did every other nation, including the United States) and actually did launch 17 cavalry charges during the Polish Campaign, fifteen of which were successful. They never charged tanks though. When Polish cavalry encountered German Panzers they dismounted and attacked the tanks with the anti-tank guns organic to Polish cavalry regiments and Molotov cocktails. The only mounted charge around German tanks was an attempt to escape encirclement – and it succeeded.

So how did the story get started? It turns out the myth was the outgrowth of a real-life version of the game of telephone: the one where someone whispers a phrase to a person next to them, who repeats it to the next person until it works its way around a circle getting distorted with each telling. It involves impressionable Italian journalists, mischief-making Panzer troops, the Nazi propaganda machine, Allied occupation forces, and sloppy US newsmen.

It started with an action against a German mechanized division. On September 1, at the Battle of Krojanty, the Polish 18th Uhlans Regiment attacked and scattered German infantry belonging to the 20th Mechanized Infantry Division. Some of the Poles were armed with lances. The charge was successful, but the Poles took casualties, leaving dead horses and men – some armed with lances – on the battlefield.

Hours later, as evening approached a German panzer unit occupied the battlefield. They had not been involved in the fighting. They were looking for a place to rest for the night. After they set up camp they were joined by a group of war correspondents from Germany and still-neutral Italy.

The correspondents assumed the dead lancers had attacked the panzer unit. They asked the camped panzer troops to tell them about the battle. The German soldiers probably saw an opportunity to pull the legs of the gullible newsmen. They not only allowed the misconception to go uncorrected, they embellished it, giving details of the Polish cavalry charge against their tanks.

One Italian correspondent was a romantic. He was so moved by the tale he wrote a story about the doomed heroism of the Polish cavalry, attacking tanks with nothing more than lances and sabers. The story proved irresistible. It was translated to English and widely reprinted in the Western press.

The Germans knew a good story when they saw one, too. They seized on the tale as an example of Polish backwardness, and the folly of their opposing the Reich. Their propaganda ministry made a documentary about the German invasion of Poland, “Geschwader Lützow.” It included a staged cavalry charge, reproducing an incident which never occurred. Both cavalrymen and Panzer troops were actors; the filmed scene was vivid.

After the war Allied historians went through Nazi archives, duplicating material of historical interest and sending it to archives in their home countries. This included copies of “Geschwader Lützow.” It was marked as a documentary. Information about the provenance of the Polish cavalry charge scene was lost.

Captivated by the dramatic imagery, many documentaries about World War II made in the United States ended up using that footage in sections about the invasion of Poland, including (I believe) the weekly series The Twentieth Century. As a result many people believe they saw footage of a Polish horse cavalry charge against German panzers.

It was not until the 1990s, after the fall of the Iron Curtain and the collapse of the Soviet Empire that access to Polish accounts became accessible in the West. During that period what really happened – and the game of telephone running from Italian war correspondents to American documentary makers – was finally explained. It turns out fake news can be the product of innocent misunderstanding combined with mischief making.

Like the myth of the first bathtub in the White House, created by H. L. Menken, the myth of lancers attack tanks has been debunked – but continues to live on.

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Today’s Kipling – The Mare’s Nest

(Sometimes the course of true love fails to run smoothly. . .)

The Mare’s Nest

Rudyard Kipling

Jane Austen Beecher Stowe de Rouse
Was good beyond all earthly need;
But, on the other hand, her spouse
Was very, very bad indeed.
He smoked cigars, called churches slow,
And raced — but this she did not know.

For Belial Machiavelli kept
The little fact a secret, and,
Though o’er his minor sins she wept,
Jane Austen did not understand
That Lilly — thirteen-two and bay
Absorbed one-half her husband’s pay.

She was so good, she made hime worse;
(Some women are like this, I think;)
He taught her parrot how to curse,
Her Assam monkey how to drink.
He vexed her righteous soul until
She went up, and he went down hill.

Then came the crisis, strange to say,
Which turned a good wife to a better.
A telegraphic peon, one day,
Brought her — now, had it been a letter
For Belial Machiavelli, I
Know Jane would just have let it lie.

But ’twas a telegram instead,
Marked “urgent,” and her duty plain
To open it. Jane Austen read:
“Your Lilly’s got a cough again.
Can’t understand why she is kept
At your expense.” Jane Austen wept.

It was a misdirected wire.
Her husband was at Shaitanpore.
She spread her anger, hot as fire,
Through six thin foreign sheets or more.
Sent off that letter, wrote another
To her solicitor — and mother.

Then Belial Machiavelli saw
Her error and, I trust, his own,
Wired to the minion of the Law,
And traveled wifeward — not alone.
For Lilly — thirteen-two and bay —
Came in a horse-box all the way.

There was a scene — a weep or two —
With many kisses. Austen Jane
Rode Lilly all the season through,
And never opened wires again.
She races now with Belial. This
Is very sad, but so it is.


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Today’s Kipling – The Dawn Wind

(The choice was inspired by the 2018 SOTU speech.)

The Dawn Wind

The Fifteenth Century

Rudyard Kipling

At two o’clock in the morning, if you open your window and listen,
You will hear the feet of the Wind that is going to call the sun.
And the trees in the shadow rustle and the trees in the moonlight glisten,
And though it is deep, dark night, you feel that the night is done.

So do the cows in the field. They graze for an hour and lie down,
Dozing and chewing the cud; or a bird in the ivy wakes,
Chirrups one note and is still, and the restless Wind strays on,
Fidgeting far down the road, till, softly, the darkness breaks.

Back comes the Wind full strength with a blow like an angel’s wing,
Gentle but waking the world, as he shouts: “The Sun! The Sun!”
And the light floods over the fields and the birds begin to sing,
And the Wind dies down in the grass. It is day and his work is done.

So when the world is asleep, and there seems no hope of her waking
Out of some long, bad dream that makes her mutter and moan,
Suddenly, all men arise to the noise of fetters breaking,
And every one smiles at his neighbour and tells him his soul is his own!


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Today’s Kipling – Norman and Saxon

Norman and Saxon

A.D. 1100

Rudyard Kipling

“My son,” said the Norman Baron, “I am dying, and you will be heir
To all the broad acres in England that William gave me for share
When he conquered the Saxon at Hastings, and a nice little handful it is.
But before you go over to rule it I want you to understand this:–

“The Saxon is not like us Normans. His manners are not so polite.
But he never means anything serious till he talks about justice right.
When he stands like an ox in the furrow–with his sullen set eyes on your own,
And grumbles, ‘This isn’t fair dealing,’ my son, leave the Saxon alone.

“You can horsewhip your Gascony archers, or torture your Picardy spears;
But don’t try that game on the Saxon; you’ll have the whole brood round your ears.
From the richest old Thane in the county to the poorest chained serf in the field,
They’ll be at you and on you like hornets, and, if you are wise, you will yield.

“But first you must master their language, their dialect, proverbs and songs.
Don’t trust any clerk to interpret when they come with the tale of their own wrongs.
Let them know that you know what they are saying; let them feel that you know what to say.
Yes, even when you want to go hunting, hear ’em out if it takes you all day.

They’ll drink every hour of the daylight and poach every hour of the dark.
It’s the sport not the rabbits they’re after (we’ve plenty of game in the park).
Don’t hang them or cut off their fingers. That’s wasteful as well as unkind,
For a hard-bitten, South-country poacher makes the best man- at-arms you can find.

“Appear with your wife and the children at their weddings and funerals and feasts.
Be polite but not friendly to Bishops; be good to all poor parishpriests.
Say ‘we,’ ‘us’ and ‘ours’ when you’re talking, instead of ‘you fellows’ and ‘I.’
Don’t ride over seeds; keep your temper; and never you tell ’em a lie!”


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Today’s Kipling – A Code of Morals

We did not always have the Internet. Creative lovers found other ways to communicate long distances at the speed of light.

A CODE OF MORALS

Rudyard Kipling

Lest you should think this story true
I merely mention I
Evolved it lately. ‘Tis a most
Unmitigated misstatement.

Now Jones had left his new-wed bride to keep his house in order,
And hied away to the Hurrum Hills above the Afghan border,
To sit on a rock with a heliograph; but ere he left he taught
His wife the working of the Code that sets the miles at naught.

And Love had made him very sage, as Nature made her fair;
So Cupid and Apollo linked, per heliograph, the pair.
At dawn, across the Hurrum Hills, he flashed her counsel wise—
At e’en, the dying sunset bore her husband’s homilies.

He warned her ‘gainst seductive youths in scarlet clad and gold,
As much as ‘gainst the blandishments paternal of the old;
But kept his gravest warnings for (hereby the ditty hangs)
That snowy-haired Lothario, Lieutenant-General Bangs.

‘Twas General Bangs, with Aide and Staff, who tittupped on the way,
When they beheld a heliograph tempestuously at play.
They thought of Border risings, and of stations sacked and burnt—
So stopped to take the message down—and this is what they learnt—

“Dash dot dot, dot, dot dash, dot dash dot” twice. The General swore.

“Was ever General Officer addressed as ‘dear’ before?
“‘My Love,’ i’ faith! ‘My Duck,’ Gadzooks! ‘My darling popsy-wop!’
“Spirit of great Lord Wolseley, who is on that mountaintop?”

The artless Aide-de-camp was mute; the gilded Staff were still,
As, dumb with pent-up mirth, they booked that message from the hill;
For clear as summer lightning-flare, the husband’s warning ran:—
“Don’t dance or ride with General Bangs—a most immoral man.”

[At dawn, across the Hurrum Hills, he flashed her counsel wise—
But, howsoever Love be blind, the world at large hath eyes.]
With damnatory dot and dash he heliographed his wife
Some interesting details of the General’s private life.

The artless Aide-de-camp was mute, the shining Staff were still,
And red and ever redder grew the General’s shaven gill.

And this is what he said at last (his feelings matter not):—
“I think we’ve tapped a private line. Hi! Threes about there! Trot!”

All honour unto Bangs, for ne’er did Jones thereafter know
By word or act official who read off that helio.

But the tale is on the Frontier, and from Michni to Mooltan
They know the worthy General as “that most immoral man.”


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Today’s Kipling – Philadelphia

Philadelphia

Rudyard Kipling

(Brother Square-Toes, Rewards and Fairies)

IF YOU’RE OFF to Philadelphia in the morning,
You mustn’t take my stories for a guide.
There’s little left, indeed, of the city you will read of,
And all the folk I write about have died.
Now few will understand if you mention Talleyrand,
Or remember what his cunning and his skill did;
And the cabmen at the wharf do not know Count Zinzendorf,
Nor the Church in Philadelphia he builded.

It is gone, gone, gone with lost Atlantis,
(Never say I didn’t give you warning).
In Seventeen Ninety-three ’twas there for all to see,
But it’s not in Philadelphia this morning.

If you’re off to Philadelphia in the morning,
You mustn’t go by anything I’ve said.
Bob Bicknell’s Southern Stages have been laid aside for ages,
But the Limited will take you there instead.
Toby Hirte can’t be seen at One Hundred and Eighteen
North Second Street–no matter when you call;
And I fear you’ll search in vain for the wash-house down the lane
Where Pharaoh played the fiddle at the ball.

It is gone, gone, gone with Thebes the Golden,
(Never say I didn’t give you warning).
In Seventeen Ninety-four ’twas a famous dancing floor–
But it’s not in Philadelphia this morning.

If you’re off to Philadelphia in the morning,
You must telegraph for rooms at some Hotel.
You needn’t try your luck at Epply’s or “The Buck,”
Though the Father of his Country liked them well.
It is not the slightest use to inquire for Adam Goos,
Or to ask where Pastor Meder has removed–so
You must treat as out of date the story I relate
Of the Church in Philadelphia he loved so.

He is gone, gone, gone with Martin Luther
(Never say I didn’t give you warning)
In Seventeen Ninety-five he was, ( rest his soul! ) alive.
But he’s not in Philadelphia this morning.

If you’re off to Philadelphia this morning,
And wish to prove the truth of what I say,
I pledge my word you’ll find the pleasant land behind
Unaltered since Red Jacket rode that way.
Still the pine-woods scent the noon; still the catbird sings his tune;
Still autumn sets the maple-forest blazing;
Still the grape-vine through the dusk flings her soul-compelling musk;
Still the fire-flies in the corn make night amazing!

They are there, there, there with Earth immortal
(Citizens, I give you friendly warning ).
The things that truly last when men and times have passed,
They are all in Pennsylvania this morning!

(Philadelphia was one of the poems written as either to introduce or close the short stories in Kipling’s book Rewards and Fairies, a sequel to Puck of Pook’s Hill. You can find an online version of Rewards and Fairies here and an audio version here. If you like Kipling it is worth a read.)


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Today’s Kipling – The Press

The Press

Rudyard Kipling

The Soldier may forget his Sword,
The Sailorman the Sea,
The Mason may forget the Word
And the Priest his Litany:
The Maid may forget both jewel and gem,
And the Bride her wedding-dress-
But the Jew shall forget Jerusalem
Ere we forget the Press !

Who once hath stood through the loaded hour
Ere, roaring like the gale,
The Harrild and the Hoe devour
Their league-long paper-bale,
And has lit his pipe in the morning calm
That follows the midnight stress-
He hath sold his heart to the old Black Art
We call the daily Press.

Who once hath dealt in the widest game
That all of a man can play,
No later love, no larger fame
Will lure him long away.
As the war-horse snuffeth the battle afar,
The entered Soul, no less,
He saith: “Ha! Ha!” where the trumpets are
And the thunders of the Press!

Canst thou number the days that we fulfill,
Or the Times that we bring forth ?
Canst thou send the lightnings to do thy will,
And cause them reign on earth ?
Hast thou given a peacock goodly wings,
To please his foolishness ?
Sit down at the heart of men and things,
Companion of the Press !

The Pope may launch his Interdict,
The Union its decree,
But the bubble is blown and the bubble is pricked
By Us and such as We.
Remember the battle and stand aside
While Thrones and Powers confess
That King over all the children of pride
Is the Press – the Press – the Press !


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Today’s Kipling – Zion

Zion

Rudyard Kipling

The Doorkeepers of Zion,
They do not always stand
In helmet and whole armour,
With halberds in their hand;
But, being sure of Zion,
And all her mysteries,
They rest awhile in Zion,
Sit down and smile in Zion;
Ay, even jest in Zion;
In Zion, at their ease.

The Gatekeepers of Baal,
They dare not sit or lean,
But fume and fret and posture
And foam and curse between;
For being bound to Baal,
Whose sacrifice is vain,
Their rest is scant with Baal,
They glare and pant for Baal,
They mouth and rant for Baal,
For Baal in their pain!

But we will go to Zion,
By choice and not through dread,
With these our present comrades
And those our present dead;
And, being free of Zion
In both her fellowships,
Sit down and sup in Zion —
Stand up and drink in Zion
Whatever cup in Zion
Is offered to our lips!


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