KIM, KIPLING & KAMAKURA

………..“He lived in a life wild as that of the Arabian Nights, but
………..missionaries and secretaries of charitable societies could
………..not see the beauty of it.” ………..

Each of the first three chapters of Kim (1901-2) is introduced by a stanza from Kipling’s poem, “The Buddha at Kamakura,” which he wrote after a visit to Japan in 1892. It’s by no means his best poem, but it’s certainly one of the most detailed and challenging ones he ever wrote on the subject of East and West from a religious point of view. Needless to say, the poem must have interested Kipling a lot for him to have selected stanzas from it for such a crucial introduction.

And they’re not easy ones either, so Kipling must have wanted readers to spend some time figuring out what they meant. Most importantly, they’re not about exotic adventure in India, or even about India, for that matter, but rather move toward the quieter, deeper, more universal themes in Kim, many of which would be new to readers even today.

Kamakura is the 44 foot high, 800 year old bronze Amitaba Buddha near Tokyo so much loved by the people of Japan — ‘Amitaba’ is  the Japanese Buddha of love, a ‘Savior Buddha,’ really, and closely related in his origins to the female goddess Kwan Im in China. Kipling makes sure the reader knows it is precisely this Buddha and this place he is referring to by introducing Chapter I with the phrase, “And there is a Japanese idol at Kamakura“–  and of course the word “idol” was intended to provoke a negative response. The verses, on the other hand, succeed in doing just the opposite — which, I would argue, is precisely why they are there.…………………………………

…………………………………………..Kim,  Chapter I:
………………………………….O ye who tread the Narrow Way
………………………………….By Tophet -flare to Judgment Day,
………………………………….Be gentle when the ‘heathen’ pray
………………………………….To Buddha at Kamakura!

………………………………………….Kim,  Chapter II:
………………………………….And whoso will, from Pride released,
………………………………….Contemning neither creed nor priest,
………………………………….May feel the Soul of all the East
………………………………….About him at Kamakura.

………………………………………….Kim,  Chapter III:
………………………………….Yea, voice of every Soul that clung
………………………………….To life that strove from rung to rung
………………………………….When Devadatta’s rule was young,
………………………………….The warm wind brings Kamakura.

The first stanza tries to soften Christian distaste for other religions by appealing to the warm atmosphere at Kamakura.  Both “Tophet-flare” and “Judgement Day” are harsh Biblical allusions that contrast strongly with the gentle peace embodied in the place, Kamakura, and of course in the last line of every stanza in the poem. Chapter Two’s stanza, on the other hand,  praises Western, non-orthodox free-thinkers who take pride in their open-mindedness to “other creeds” (this is the age of “Spritualism,” don’t forget, Theosophy, Anthroposophy, and there were big personalities involved  in those movements too, needless to say).  The appeal to these two, diametrically opposed groups of people at the beginning of the novel shows the degree to which Kipling’s own heart was engaged in quite a different spriritual dimension in Kim.

The third introductory stanza is much more ambiguous. Devadatta was a very close disciple of the Buddha who actually rejected the Master’s “Middle Way,” preferring to stay behind in the old elitist spiritual life as an ascetic in the forest. Devadatta did not join the Buddha in his later, more gentle, holistic phase, and there is even a legend that he tried to kill the Buddha to prevent him from attaining Enlightenment. The stanza seems to suggest that whoever such people are, they are conservative and therefore unwilling, or not yet ready, in any case,  to move on. They belong to an earlier world order.

In fact, Kipling did not include this 3rd stanza in the full version of “The Buddha at Kamakura,” which he first published in 1892 in an article in the Times called “The Edge of the East,” an article specifically about Japan. The poem as a whole was eventually added to the collection called The Five Nations in 1903,  two years after the publication of Kim. In that version he included the following, much easier, more straightforward stanza, part of which is also quoted in the body of the first chapter of Kim, so we’re in the same place:

…………………………………Yea, every tale Ananda heard,
…………………………………Of birth as fish or beast or bird,
…………………………………While yet in lives the Master stirred,
…………………………………The warm wind brings Kamakura.

Ananda was the closest friend of the Buddha, if one would dare to say that about the Buddha, implying as it does some attachment on his part as well. In any case, this stanza would seem to celebrate the supportive presence of the Buddha in the pre-conscious mind,  so to speak, i.e. in those beings who have not yet had the chance to experience life as a fully conscious human being.

This is mainly just a hunch, but my feeling is that Kipling was addressing in both these last two stanzas the vast majority of Westerners, busy people too set in their ways to understand Eastern spiritual practices in their hearts. He seems to be saying that with a little help they could still come to respect and even be inspired by devotion like that shown to Amitaba Buddha at Kamakura, which has certainly proven to be true in our times.

The overall message in the introductory stanzas is one of love and respect for all people who worship out of the heart, whatever their creed or the form of their worship. It is indeed a blessing to find yourself among such devoted people, the poem says, so “be gentle” and respect them. “Feel the Soul of all the East
,” open yourselves up to “the warm wind of Kamakura.”

An extraordinary message for 1892, or anytime!

Christopher Woodman

…………………………………………… “Kamakura
…………Great Buddha, with an enlarged detail of a man standing on the hands.”
……………….Photo published in Brinkley’s Japan, a Guide Book (ca. 1890).
…………………………………The Buddha at Kamakura
………………………….“And there is a Japanese idol at Kamakura”

…………………………………O ye who tread the Narrow Way
…………………………………By Tophet -flare to Judgment Day,
…………………………………Be gentle when the ‘heathen’ pray
…………………………………To Buddha at Kamakura!

…………………………………To him the Way, the Law, apart,
…………………………………Whom Maya held beneath her heart,
…………………………………Ananda’s Lord, the Bodhisat,
…………………………………The Buddha of Kamakura.

…………………………………For though he neither burns nor sees,
…………………………………Nor hears ye thank your Deities,
…………………………………Ye have not sinned with such as these,
…………………………………His children at Kamakura.

…………………………………Yet spare us still the Western joke
…………………………………When joss-sticks turn to scented smoke
…………………………………The little sins of little folk
…………………………………That worship at Kamakura.

…………………………………The grey-robed, gay-sashed butterflies
…………………………………That flit beneath the Master’s eyes.
…………………………………He is beyond the Mysteries
…………………………………But loves them at Kamakura.

…………………………………And whoso will, from Pride released,
…………………………………Contemning neither creed nor priest,
…………………………………May feel the Soul of all the East
…………………………………About him at Kamakura.

…………………………………Yea, every tale Ananda heard,
…………………………………Of birth as fish or beast or bird,
…………………………………While yet in lives the Master stirred,
…………………………………The warm wind brings Kamakura.

…………………………………Till drowsy eyelids seem to see
…………………………………A-flower ‘neath her golden htee
…………………………………The Shwe-Dagon flare easterly
…………………………………From Burmah to Kamakura,

…………………………………And down the loaded air there comes
…………………………………The thunder of Thibetan drums,
…………………………………And droned — “Om mane padme hums ” —
…………………………………A world’s-width from Kamakura.

…………………………………Yet Brahmans rule Benares still,
…………………………………Buddh-Gaya’s ruins pit the hill,
…………………………………And beef-fed zealots threaten ill
…………………………………To Buddha and Kamakura.

…………………………………A tourist-show, a legend told,
…………………………………A rusting bulk of bronze and gold,
…………………………………So much, and scarce so much, ye hold
…………………………………The meaning of Kamakura?

…………………………………But when the morning prayer is prayed,
…………………………………Think, ere ye pass to strife and trade,
…………………………………Is God in human image made
…………………………………No nearer than Kamakura?

……………………………………………………………………..Rudyard Kipling, 1892

………THE COMMENTS THAT FOLLOW DEVELOP THE THREAD

EAST IS EAST AND WEST IS WEST

Mandalay

By the old Moulmein Pagoda, lookin’ lazy at the sea,
There’s a Burma girl a-settin’, and I know she thinks o’ me;
For the wind is in the palm-trees, and the temple-bells they say:
“Come you back, you British soldier; come you back to Mandalay!”
………….. Come you back to Mandalay,
………….. Where the old Flotilla lay:
………….. Can’t you ‘ear their paddles chunkin’ from Rangoon to Mandalay?
………….. On the road to Mandalay,
………….. Where the flyin’-fishes play,
………….. An’ the dawn comes up like thunder outer China ‘crost the Bay!

‘Er petticoat was yaller an’ ‘er little cap was green,
An’ ‘er name was Supi-yaw-lat — jes’ the same as Theebaw‘s Queen,
An’ I seed her first a-smokin’ of a whackin’ white cheroot,
An’ a-wastin’ Christian kisses on an ‘eathen idol’s foot:
………….. Bloomin’ idol made o’mud —
………….. Wot they called the Great Gawd Budd —
………….. Plucky lot she cared for idols when I kissed ‘er where she stud!
………….. On the road to Mandalay . . .

When the mist was on the rice-fields an’ the sun was droppin’ slow,
She’d git ‘er little banjo an’ she’d sing “Kulla-lo-lo!
With ‘er arm upon my shoulder an’ ‘er cheek agin’ my cheek
We useter watch the steamers an’ the hathis pilin’ teak.
………….. Elephints a-pilin’ teak
………….. In the sludgy, squdgy creek,
………….. Where the silence ‘ung that ‘eavy you was ‘arf afraid to speak!
………….. On the road to Mandalay . . .

But that’s all shove be’ind me — long ago an’ fur away,
An’ there ain’t no ‘busses runnin’ from the Bank to Mandalay;
An’ I’m learnin’ ‘ere in London what the ten-year soldier tells:
“If you’ve ‘eard the East a-callin’, you won’t never ‘eed naught else.”
………….. No! you won’t ‘eed nothin’ else
………….. But them spicy garlic smells,
………….. An’ the sunshine an’ the palm-trees an’ the tinkly temple-bells;
………….. On the road to Mandalay . . .

I am sick o’ wastin’ leather on these gritty pavin’-stones,
An’ the blasted Henglish drizzle wakes the fever in my bones;
Tho’ I walks with fifty ‘ousemaids outer Chelsea to the Strand,
An’ they talks a lot o’ lovin’, but wot do they understand?
………….. Beefy face an’ grubby ‘and —
………….. Law! wot do they understand?
………….. I’ve a neater, sweeter maiden in a cleaner, greener land!
………….. On the road to Mandalay . . .

Ship me somewheres east of Suez, where the best is like the worst,
Where there aren’t no Ten Commandments an’ a man can raise a thirst;
For the temple-bells are callin’, an’ it’s there that I would be —
By the old Moulmein Pagoda, looking lazy at the sea;
………….. On the road to Mandalay,
………….. Where the old Flotilla lay,
………….. With our sick beneath the awnings when we went to Mandalay!
………….. On the road to Mandalay,
………….. Where the flyin’-fishes play,
………….. An’ the dawn comes up like thunder outer China ‘crost the Bay!

………………………………………………………………..Rudyard Kipling (1890)

………THE COMMENTS THAT FOLLOW DEVELOP THE THREAD

THE GOOD BAD POEM

One can, perhaps, place Kipling more satisfactorily than by juggling with the words “verse” and “poetry” if one describes him simply as a good bad poet.
………………………………………………………………George Orwell

Mr.[T.S.] Eliot describes Kipling’s metrical work as “verse” and not “poetry,” but adds that it is “great verse,” and further qualifies this by saying that a writer can only be described as a “great verse-writer” if there is some of his work “of which we cannot say whether it is verse or poetry.”

“At his worst, and also his most vital, in poems like “Gunga Din” or “Danny Deever,” Kipling is almost a shameful pleasure, like the taste for cheap sweets that some people secretly carry into middle life.  But even with his best passages one has the same sense of being seduced by something spurious, and yet unquestionably seduced.  Unless one is merely a snob and a liar it is impossible to say that no one who cares for poetry could get any pleasure out of such lines as:  “For the wind is in the palm-trees, and the temple-bells they say:/Come you back, you British soldier; come you back to Mandalay!” and yet those lines are not poetry in the same sense as “Felix Randal” [Hopkins] or “When icicles hang by the wall” [Shakespeare] are poetry.

“There is a great deal of good bad poetry in English, all of it, I should say, subsequent to 1790.  Examples of good bad poems–I am deliberately choosing diverse ones–are “The Bridge of Sighs,” “When all the World is Young, Lad,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Bret Harte’s “Dickens in Camp,” “The Burial of Sir John Moore,” “Jenny Kissed Me,” “Keith of Ravelston,” “Casabianca.” All of these reek of sentimentality, and yet—not these particular poems, perhaps, but poems of this kind, are capable of giving true pleasure to people who can see clearly what is wrong with them.  One could fill a fair-sized anthology with good bad poems, if it were not for the significant fact that good bad poetry is usually too well known to be worth reprinting.  It is no use pretending that in an age like our own, “good” poetry can have any genuine popularity.  It is, and must be, the cult of a very few people, the least tolerated of the arts.  Perhaps that statement needs a certain amount of qualification.  True poetry can sometimes be acceptable to the mass of the people when it disguises itself as something else.  One can see an example of this in the folk-poetry that England still possesses, certain nursery rhymes and mnemonic rhymes, for instance, and the songs that soldiers make up, including words that go to some of the bugle-calls.  But in general ours is a civilization in which the very word “poetry” evokes a hostile snigger or, at best, the sort of frozen disgust that most people feel when they hear the word “God.”

“If you are good at playing the concertina you could probably go into the nearest public bar and get yourself an appreciative audience within five minutes.  But what would be the attitude of that same audience if you suggested reading them Shakespeare’s sonnets, for instance?  Good bad poetry, however, can get across to the most unpromising audience if the right atmosphere has been worked up beforehand.

“The fact that such a thing as good bad poetry can exist is a sign of the emotional overlap between the intellectual and the ordinary man.  The intellectual is different from the ordinary man, but only in certain sections of his personality, and even then not all the time.  But what is the peculiarity of a good bad poem? A good bad poem is a graceful momument to the obvious.  It records in memorable form–for verse is a mnemonic device, among other things–some emotion which very nearly every human being can share.  The merit of a poem like “When all the World is Young, Lad” is that, however sentimental it may be, its sentiment is “true” sentiment in the sense that you are bound to find yourself thinking the thought it expresses sooner or later; and then, if you happen to know the poem, it will come back into your mind and seem better than it did before.”

……………………………………………………………………..–George Orwell, 1946