Thursday, December 10, 2009


These Shall Cleanse and Purify

"A jingo imperialist...morally insensitive and aesthetically disgusting." This is Rudyard Kipling, as described by George Orwell, who also called most of Kipling's poetry "horribly vulgar." I'm a Philistine at heart, and these criticisms are recommendations to me. Here's A Charm by Rudyard Kipling:
Take of English earth as much
As either hand may rightly clutch.
In the taking of it breathe
Prayer for all who lie beneath.
Not the great nor well-bespoke,
But the mere uncounted folk
Of whose life and death is none
Report or lamentation.
  Lay that earth upon thy heart,
  And thy sickness shall depart!

It shall sweeten and make whole
Fevered breath and festered soul.
It shall mightily restrain
Over-busied hand and brain.
It shall ease thy mortal strife
'Gainst the immortal woe of life,
Till thyself, restored, shall prove
By what grace the Heavens do move.

Take of English flowers these—
Spring's full-facèd primroses,
Summer's wild wide-hearted rose,
Autumn's wall-flower of the close,
And, thy darkness to illume,
Winter's bee-thronged ivy-bloom.
Seek and serve them where they bide
From Candlemas to Christmas-tide,
  For these simples, used aright,
  Can restore a failing sight.

These shall cleanse and purify
Webbed and inward-turning eye;
These shall show thee treasure hid,
Thy familiar fields amid;
And reveal (which is thy need)
Every man a King indeed!
On Kipling's interest in botany, see Charles Carrington, Rudyard Kipling: His Life and Work (London: Macmillan, 1955; rpt. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1986), p. 554:
He travelled always with a well-used copy of that old classic, Flowers of the Field by C.A. Johns, and noted observations in its margins. He arranged the ninety-three orders of British plants in a mnemonic rhyme for easy mental reference and, as might be expected of a writer who so much enjoyed 'baiting his hook with gaudy words', he was avid to acquire new rustic names for flowers and herbs. In France he made a point of collecting French varieties of English wild flowers and recording their French rural names.

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