Sunday, March 09, 2008

A lost joke

Time for my semi-regular little Sunday downer (Cowboy, you have been warned). This one carries special poignancy because it was indeed inspired by the death of Kipling's own son in World War I, an event which is often seen as marking the moment of his transition from a gung-ho apologist of the Empire to something altogether more cynical, more reflective, sadder, wiser.

A Son (from 'Epitaphs of War')

My son was killed while laughing at some jest. I would I knew
What it was, and it might serve me in a time when jests are few.

Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)


Mothman said...

Do you know, I have read and re-read this little gem and wondered what witticism could possibly enliven the sombre mood it engendered.

My conclusion was that none could...the whole concept is just so unremittingly, mind-bendingly fucking awful that I can't really get my head around it.

I recall reading some time ago about how Jack Kipling died while serving with the Irish Guards...with his jaw shot away and in intolerable pain, I believe. An only child, I think, and as blind as a bat and quite entitled to dodge military service had he so chosen. His grief-stricken parents spent months touring the battlefields trying to find his grave, but to no avail I gather: his body was apparently 'misplaced' or - more likely - blown to bits in a later barrage.

Awful beyond comprehension.

Apart from the fact that I love India and have bought and read several of his books out there, Kipling also endeared himself to me in one major way by describing England as "The most marvellous foreign country". Like so many great English 'patriots' he spent little time there.

Froog said...

Thanks for that, Mothman. New information for me. I've used the 'Epitaphs of War' series in classes on WWI poetry, but hadn't known too much of the background.

Mothman said...

Best to check it memory is shot nowadays... (No that wasn't intended to be a pun, by the way)