I went to Rudyard Elementary in Rudyard, Michigan. Both the town and school were named after Rudyard Kipling. I never paid any attention to their namesake — until recently. I wish I had done so long ago. In trying to explain why, I have cited the majority of the Wiki Page on Kipling’s poem, The Gods of the Copybook Heading. I did this to preserve the links in the Wiki listing, as they may be useful — especially to those who do not know the poem. But I am going to add my own twist to the text of the poem, and I hope you’ll take time to read it. Even if you know the poem, I think what I have done here may drive Kipling’s point home in a way you had not seen or fully understood before (but I beg your forgiveness if you are ahead of me on this as I do not mean to condescend).
“The Gods of the Copybook Headings” is a poem published by Rudyard Kipling in 1919, which, editor Andrew Rutherford said, contained “age-old, unfashionable wisdom” that Kipling saw as having been forgotten by society and replaced by “habits of wishful thinking.”
The “copybook headings” to which the title refers were proverbs or maxims, extolling virtues such as honesty or fair dealing that were printed at the top of the pages of 19th-century British students’ special notebook pages, called copybooks. The school-children had to write them by hand repeatedly down the page.
The Gods of the Copybook Headings
AS I PASS through my incarnations in every age and race,
(as the spirit of mankind travels through time/history)
I make my proper prostrations to the Gods of the Market Place. (he bows to the promises of market: those in charge of the economy)
Peering through reverent fingers I watch them flourish and fall,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings, I notice, outlast them all. (though the things men promise never last, the eternal truths of Natural Law remain constant and true)
We were living in trees when they met us. They showed us each in turn (we first encountered the principles of Natural Law when we were just starting to evolve)
That Water would certainly wet us, as Fire would certainly burn: (self-evident and undeniable truths)
But we found them lacking in Uplift, Vision and Breadth of Mind, (but — in our arrogance — we rejected these objective realities in favor of our fantasies and desires)
So we left them to teach the Gorillas while we followed the March of Mankind. (we left the ‘less evolved’ to embrace the eternal principles of Natural Law and pursued a reality of our own making)
We moved as the Spirit listed. They never altered their pace, (we embraced the lies of our times while the principles of Natural Law remained constant and true)
Being neither cloud nor wind-borne like the Gods of the Market Place, (Natural Law is constant and does not change with the whims of man)
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. (the effects of Natural Law always prevail, and societies that ignore them are always destroyed by them)
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; (Natural Law has no respect nor concern for the desire or arrogance of men)
They denied that Wishes were Horses; they denied that a Pig had Wings; (Natural Law only recognizes the truth, not the lies of men)
So we worshipped the Gods of the Market Who promised these beautiful things. (but men ignore Natural Law and pursue the lies of their own desires)
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. (we believed the lies of men who told us they could change the laws of nature and end wars between men)
But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe, (and when we believed them, they took advantage of and ruled over us)
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) (they told us that “if it feels good, do it,’ and that no harm would come from such immoral behavior)
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “The Wages of Sin is Death.” (The Eteranl Truths remain constant, and they always prevail — no matter how much man wishes otherwise)
In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul; (the socialist lie that you can solve poverty by taking from ‘the rich’ and giving to ‘the poor’)
But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy, (the inevitable effect of hyper inflation, which results monetary policies that ignore Natural Law — i.e. Keynes, etc)
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “If you don’t work you die.” (once again: Natural Law enforces itself on the desires of men and reveals the lies they have told themselves to be just that — lies)
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 (liars are always destroyed, and people come back to recognize that Natural Law is 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. (no matter how arrogant and rebellious man may be, there are eternal Truths, and they will prevail)
As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man (nothing changes)
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 wabbling back to the Fire; (Natural Law remains constant, and man will never learn)
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, (yet, as soon as man convinces himself that he has finally changes the laws of nature, and remade the universe according to his own utopian desires)
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn, (as sure as anything can be)
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return! (the principles of Natural Law will return, and destruction and ruin will be the result)
It is my understanding that Kipling was writing in reaction to the loss of his son in WW I, and to the Utopian/Progressive lies for which he blamed the war, the economic woes of the time and the loss of his son. Either way, Kipling had hit on an eternal truth: that there are laws governing the universe, economics and human nature, and mankind cannot change them — no matter how hard he wills it to be so. This is where the value of tradition comes in. Tradition is how one generation hands down the wisdom and knowledge of the past to the next generation. It is the cement that binds the present with yesterday. It is — literally — social evolution. So, when modern voices argue that we can and should do away with traditions, they are violating the very laws about which Kipling was writing, which only condemns us to endure the terror and slaughter once more. As you can see, we have not learned, and the Truth in Kipling’s words is forcing itself upon us yet again.
But then, Kipling wasn’t saying anything new. In fact, he was doing little more than reciting the lessons taught in Scripture, for every point he makes in this poem can be found in the Old Testament. You will also find an imperative — from God — to teach the children of the next generation about the lessons of the past, so they will not forget and repeat them. We call this tradition, and it is essential to the maintenance of society. God is clear on this, as are His Natural Laws (Perhaps this is because the author of the Bible and of Natural Law are one in the same?!) But, as with ancient Israel, modern man is still an ignorant, arrogant lot that believes it can change those laws, change God. We simply do not learn.
You might also find these links to be of interest: