So I wrote an email to some friends of mine who have teenage children, in which I said the following: "If I could, as a counter to the above description of the present status of education in these presently united States, I would give every teenager in these presently united States the following summer assignment:
Read Kipling's "the Gods of the Copybook Headings" (TGOTCH) (see attached below) and write a report on the poem that addresses the following:
First, define a "Copybook Heading," and explain what a copybook was. Stanza by stanza, explain the meaning of the poem in your own words.
When did Kipling publish the poem, and where was he living at that time?
What major personal event(s) had occurred in Kipling's life within the two years prior to his having published TGOTCH?
Name two major events that had occurred affecting the British Empire within the two years prior to his having published TGOTCH?
What was the socio-political milieu of that time and place? (What was happening in the society around him to prompt Kipling to write TGOTCH?)
The Gods of the Copybook Headings by Rudyard Kipling
AS I PASS through my incarnations in every age and race,
I make my proper prostrations to the Gods of the Market Place.
Peering through reverent fingers I watch them flourish and fall,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings, I notice, outlast them all.
We were living in trees when they met us. They showed us each in turn
That Water would certainly wet us, as Fire would certainly burn:
But we found them lacking in Uplift, Vision and Breadth of Mind,
So we left them to teach the Gorillas while we followed the March of Mankind.
We moved as the Spirit listed. They never altered their pace,
Being neither cloud nor wind-borne like the Gods of the Market Place,
But they always caught up with our progress, and presently word would come
That a tribe had been wiped off its icefield, or the lights had gone out in Rome.
With the Hopes that our World is built on they were utterly out of touch,
They denied that the Moon was Stilton; they denied she was even Dutch;
They denied that Wishes were Horses; they denied that a Pig had Wings;
So we worshipped the Gods of the Market Who promised these beautiful things.
When the Cambrian measures were forming, They promised perpetual peace.
They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.
But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "Stick to the Devil you know."
On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promised the Fuller Life
(Which started by loving our neighbour and ended by loving his wife)
Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "The Wages of Sin is Death."
In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "If you don't work you die."
Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew
And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true
That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more.
As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool's bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;
And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!"
Each of you, O gentle reader, is invited to pass this summer assignment along, and undertake it yourself, should you see the need, and choose to do so. If even one in a hundred of the teens in these presently united States read and pondered Kipling's 1919 masterwork, the future might be just a bit brighter.
With regard to all who serve the Light,