Sunday, May 21, 2006

England's last great poet.

Britain was once rich in literature. Poets of the calibre of Tennyson, Keats and Shelley commanded something approaching a mass market. The publishing of Byron's new poems was a social and literary event on a scale unimaginable today. And what do we have today? A laureate who is addicted to Lemsip. At least Coleridge was on laudanum!

The reason that Britain's great literary age passed almost without comment was that its passing was graced by Britain's last, great poet. Rudyard Kipling was the last poet whose work enjoyed a wide audience. Perhaps because of his status as an outsider, Kipling was able to talk to every stratum of society, from Private McIlvaney to Mrs Hauksbee. Unusually, Kipling neglected the aristocracy in his work. When compared to Shelley or Wordsworth, whose work often revolved around the houses and pastimes of the great, let alone Byron who was himself of the upper orders, Kipling was preternaturally a poet of the bourgeoisie.

It is for this reason, in my opinion, that Kipling is the most representative poet of the declining years of Britain's greatness. Auden, for whom some have taken cudgels as a great poet, was most fully summed up by his flight to New York to avoid the war; Kipling spent his last years desperately trying to warn people that war was coming and must be faced.

I confess I am biased here - Kipling seems to be the last poet whose work sounds wonderful read aloud. Even with works like the Jungle Book, or the Just So Stories, not ostensibly poetry, the words flow beautifully off the page, musically and rythmically. If you haven't read much or any Kipling, try this site and marvel at the artistry and control of a poet who combined the demotic and the poetic, without losing sight of the natural beauty of languauge.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't forget John Betjeman...

3:06 pm  
Blogger Floreat Aula said...

Anony-mong: I think it is only fair to say that whilst JB was indeed a good poet; Kipling was Truly Great.

Lord God of Hosts be with us yet / lest we forget, lest we forget

A great line, from a great poem - published on the occasion of the Diamond Jubilee...

9:48 am  

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