What's the fifty something man's view on poetry? Well I'm no stranger to it although I know virtually nothing about it's technicalities or intricacies or how to interpret the more complex poems. My school days hero was Walter de la Mare who wrote mystical and whimsical shorter poems. I bought books of comic poetry which I still read today, but I don't know a lot about serious poets. I once read John Betjeman who I thoroughly enjoyed because he didn't take himself too seriously and I could relate to what he was saying about upper middle class suburban life. Roger McGough is cool when I saw him deliver poetry to kids and the Barnsley poet, the delightful Ian McMillan who I have met a number of times a few years ago is just down right brilliant fun.
I can’t abide the national Daily Mail; they hate everything and everyone (as if they were so perfect and never made a mistake) and in particular anyone in public service is fair game to be shot down and their life ruined as a result. However for once, they published an article today (16 February 2009) intelligently written by Geoffrey Wansell who has clearly put some dispassionate research into the fascinating subject (honest) of one of the nation’s favourite Poem, ‘If’ by Rudyard Kipling.
Briefly, Wansell tells the story: Kipling published Rewards and Fairies in 1910, a collection of short stories and poems of which ‘If’ was one. Indeed, the poem was written to celebrate the achievements of a friend of his, a little known named Scottish born adventurer Dr Leander Starr Jameson. Jameson suffered at the hands of the British Government as a result of a military action in the land that eventually became South Africa, an action which was supported in planning at the time by the British Government.
Jameson led a group of men in a political raid that was designed to encourage an uprising as a result of him overrunning Johannesburg in Boer held Transvaal. The politics are too complicated for this blog, save to say that the country that is now South Africa was then divided into four colonies, two British: Cape Colony and Natal and two Boer: Orange Free State and Transvaal. Needless to say that the British Government when hearing of the intended raid, panicked and changed its mind. Fed up with the political arguments and bickering that arose about the plan from the Governments change of mind, Jameson went ahead but his raid failed miserably. Boer Government troops chased Jameson and his troops, killed 30 of his men and also cost him supplies and horses. He surrendered and was handed over to the British Government who tried him for the raid and imprisoned him for 15 months.
This action caused Cecil Rhodes to step down as the Prime Minister of the Cape Colony. Jameson, undaunted by his time in jail returned to South Africa to become Prime Minister of Cape Colony until just before the creation of South Africa in 1910. Jameson never revealed the extent of the British Government's support for the raid and Kipling paid tribute to him in his poem, but not more so than in his famous opening lines:
IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you…
Kipling, my dear blog friends had the courage to speak out against Jameson’s unjust treatment; Jameson, who acted whilst others dithered. Kilpling wrote about it and put his money where his mouth was by refusing a knighthood, an Order of Merit, the post of Poet Laureate and Companion of Honour.
This is about courage. Jameson's courage do do what he believed and Kipling's courage to defy the establishment for something he believed they had done wrong.
Jean Kerr in who wrote the book Please Don't Eat the Daisies in 1957 that was later turned into a film (1960) wrote, "If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs, it's just possible you haven't grasped the situation."
Thanks Jean, for bringing me back to earth.
One spelling mistake today.