Kipling
In contemporary times, much criticism has been placed upon Rudyard Kipling for
his support of British Imperialism; George Orwell went so far as to call him the
"prophet of British Imperialism during its expansionist phase." To be
sure, a considerable portion of Kipling's works were written in celebration and
support of Imperial expansion, but it is short-sighted to simply label him as an

Imperial propagandist or apologist. Two of his most oft-condemned poems,

Recessional and The White Man's Burden, actually were used by both sides of the
colonial issue at the time.1 A reading of Recessional, taken in the context of
the prevailing attitudes of the time, seems to indicate that it is a piece about
hubris rather than a promotion of the Empire. And the "burden" that

Kipling writes on, while patronizing, was indeed a genuine burden.2 The fact
that the British Empire went far in alleviating famine and disease in the
conquered territories should not be ignored. It is beyond a doubt, however, that

Kipling was convinced of Britain's superiority in the world. In For All We Have
and Are, for instance, the reader is convinced with the last two lines,
"What stands if Freedom fall?/Who dies if England live?" Kipling was
not by far the most vociferous of the jingoists; having been somewhat of an
outsider all for his life, he showed great sympathy for those whose lives were
wasted in the expansion of the empire, and criticized the Imperial machinery
that used them. His poetry as told by the common British soldiers show his
ability maintain his status as poet laureate of the Empire while telling the
stories of its victims, and at times, condemning it for the way it treated those
soldiers. Kipling published Barrack-Room Ballads in 1890, and it immediately
gained him great success in England. A collection of poems written in the voice
of a London cockney, they display Kipling's remarkable breadth of understanding
of soldiers and soldiering during the Victorian era. While reading The Young

British Soldier one can perfectly picture a group of such men belting out the
words of the song over mugs of beer: When the arc-made recruit goes out to the

East 'E acts like a babe an' 'e drinks like a beast, An' 'e wonders because 'e
is frequent deceased Ere 'e fit for to serve as a soldier, Serve, serve, serve
as a soldier, Serve, serve, serve as a soldier, Serve, serve, serve as a
soldier, Soldier of the Queen! Here Kipling echoes the fatalistic humor that
seems to infect every soldier in every war. More fatalism and the unwillingness
to speak directly of the horrors of battle surface in The Widow's Party: ...For
half my company's laying still Where the Widow give the party. ...We broke a

King and we built a road-- A courthouse stands where the regiment goad. And the
river's clean where the raw blood flowed When the Widow give the party. Not only
does Kipling create a brutal contrast between the soldier's description (a
party) and the battle that actually took place, he injects a small amount of
disgust that good young men died, all for the purpose of expanding the Empire
into some godforsaken land that few in England had ever heard of. More of this
veiled disgust surfaces in The Widow at Windsor, written as a British soldier
who does not see the Empire as any kind of divine design: Walk wide of the Widow
at Windsor, For half of Creation she owns: We have bought her the same with the
sword 'an the flame, An we've salted it down with our bones. (Poor beggars! --
it's blue with our bones!) Take 'old of the Wings o' the Mornin', An' flop round
the earth till you're dead; But you won't get away from the tune that they play

To the blooming' old rag overhead. (Poor beggars! -- it's not overhead!) The
theme that overrides in much of Kipling's poetry, however, is his sympathy for
the common soldier and his treatment by those he is serving. Tommy endures to
this day as the best commentary on the relationship between the soldier and the
non-combatant public: I went into a theatre as sober as could be, They gave a
drunk civilian room, but 'hadn't none for me; They sent me to the gallery or
round the music-'alls, But when it comes to fighting', Lord! They'll shove me in
the stalls! ... We aren't no thin red 'heroes, nor we aren't no blackguards too,

But single men in barracks, most remarkable like you; An' if sometimes our conduct
isn't all