Saturday, December 31, 2011

Love Unflinching

Some time back I came across two old volumes of Rudyard Kipling in a used bookstore, a pair of 1956 book club editions of Kipling: A Selection of His Stories and Poems, compiled by John Beecroft. The books include a first-rate selection and offer ideal introduction to a writer Somerset Maugham praised as “…our greatest story writer. I can’t believe he will ever be equalled. I am sure he can never be excelled.” Apart from Kipling scholars, it’s doubtful that very many would settle down to read these collections front to back, but they are just right for passing an hour sampling an exotic flavor rarely found in modern writers.

Rudyard Kipling was born in Bombay (Mumbai), India in 1865. Shortly before his sixth birthday, the young Kipling was taken to England and boarded with a family who unexpectedly treated him badly. He stayed there for several unhappy years until his mother enrolled him in a Devonshire boarding school, which turned out to be a joyous span of years for the young Rudyard. At seventeen he returned to India and a newspaper job in Lahore. He had begun writing in school and the newspaper provided a convenient outlet for many of his sketches, tales and poems. After seven years in India, Kipling left for England by way of America.

Kipling’s stories had made his name known in London before his arrival, but it was the story “Without Benefit of Clergy” written while in London that assured his income. Despite his birth in India and the years in London, the writer developed close ties with two or three Americans and many of the influences on his writing came from American authors—Emerson, Poe, Bret Harte and Mark Twain. His marriage to the sister of an American friend was no surprise. The couple went to Vermont where Kipling did some of his finest writing. Returning to England with his wife and two daughters after four years in America, he wrote prolifically until his death at seventy-one.

On Friday I came across a poem in the second volume of the Kipling books titled “The Power of the Dog” and realized it had some connection to a Kipling story I read last year. The Everyman Pocket Classic, Dog Stories includes a Kipling tale first published in the December 23, 1899 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. The story is one called “Garm—A Hostage” and was accompanied by the poem “The Power of the Dog.” It is a poignant tale set in colonial India, about a bull terrier of extraordinary intelligence and devotion. The story is fueled by a bond of love and trust that would soften the hardest of hearts. The complete story can be read here. The poem that was originally paired with the story follows.


There is sorrow enough in the natural way

From men and women to fill our day;

But when we are certain of sorrow in store,

Why do we always arrange for more?

Brothers and sisters I bid you beware

Of giving your heart to a dog to tear.

Buy a pup and your money will buy
Love unflinching that cannot lie—
Perfect passion and worship fed
By a kick in the ribs or a pat on the head.
Nevertheless it is hardly fair
To risk your heart for a dog to tear.

When the fourteen years that Nature permits
Are closing in asthma, or tumour, or fits,
And the vet’s unspoken prescription runs
To lethal chambers, or loaded guns,
Then you will find—it’s your own affair—
But…you’ve given your heart to a dog to tear.

When the body that lived at your single will,
When the whimper of welcome, is stilled (how still!)
When the spirit that answered your every mood
Is gone—wherever it goes—for good,
You still discover how much you care,
And will give your heart to a dog to tear.

We’ve sorrow enough in the natural way,
When it comes to burying Christian clay.
Our loves are not given, but only lent,
At compound interest of cent per cent.
Though it is not always the case, I believe,
That the longer we’ve kept ’em the more do we grieve:

For, when debts are payable, right or wrong,
A short time loan is as bad as a long—
So why in—Heaven (before we are there)
Should we give our hearts to a dog to tear?

1 comment:

  1. Nice poem. I always liked it when we were studying Kipling in school.


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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America