Call of Poetry

Because Poetry is Meant to be Read Aloud

Month: April 2013

Gentlemen Rankers

The term “Gentleman Ranker” applies to an enlisted man who is a former officer, or was born into sufficient wealth or prestige that he could have been an officer.

In short, the odds are they majorly screwed up. They may be an outright screw-up.

In this case, the viewpoint character carries a mix of pride and bitterness. 

Gentlemen Rankers

by Rudyard Kipling

TO the legion of the lost ones, to the cohort of the damned,
    To my brethren in their sorrow overseas,
Sings a gentleman of England cleanly bred, machinely crammed,
    And a trooper of the Empress, if you please.
Yes, a trooper of the forces who has run his own six horses,
    And faith he went the pace and went it blind,
And the world was more than kin while he held the ready tin,
    But to-day the Sergeant’s something less than kind.
We’re poor little lambs who’ve lost our way,
    Baa! Baa! Baa!
We’re little black sheep who’ve gone astray,
    Baa–aa–aa!
Gentlemen-rankers out on the spree,
Damned from here to Eternity,
God ha’ mercy on such as we,
    Baa! Yah! Bah!
Oh, it’s sweet to sweat through stables, sweet to empty kitchen slops,
    And it’s sweet to hear the tales the troopers tell,
To dance with blowzy housemaids at the regimental hops
    And thrash the cad who says you waltz too well.
Yes, it makes you cock-a-hoop to be “Rider” to your troop,
    And branded with a blasted worsted spur,
When you envy, O how keenly, one poor Tommy living cleanly
    Who blacks your boots and sometimes calls you “Sir”.
If the home we never write to, and the oaths we never keep,
    And all we know most distant and most dear,
Across the snoring barrack-room return to break our sleep,
    Can you blame us if we soak ourselves in beer?
When the drunken comrade mutters and the great guard-lantern gutters
    And the horror of our fall is written plain,
Every secret, self-revealing on the aching white-washed ceiling,
    Do you wonder that we drug ourselves from pain?
We have done with Hope and Honour, we are lost to Love and Truth,
    We are dropping down the ladder rung by rung,
And the measure of our torment is the measure of our youth.
    God help us, for we knew the worst too young!
Our shame is clean repentance for the crime that brought the sentence,
    Our pride it is to know no spur of pride,
And the Curse of Reuben holds us till an alien turf enfolds us
    And we die, and none can tell Them where we died.
We’re poor little lambs who’ve lost our way,
    Baa! Baa! Baa!
We’re little black sheep who’ve gone astray,
    Baa–aa–aa!
Gentlemen-rankers out on the spree,
Damned from here to Eternity,
God ha’ mercy on such as we,
    Baa! Yah! Bah!

The Woodpile

This poem works on many layers and discusses many things in one place. Those easily offended or perpetually paranoid, those who are so busy with new projects that they could leave behind significant work untended as something else grasps their attention, and how perhaps that is not an entirely good thing to change focus so much, so fast, so often.

The Wood Pile

by Robert Frost

Out walking in the frozen swamp one grey day
I paused and said, “I will turn back from here.
No, I will go on farther–and we shall see.”
The hard snow held me, save where now and then
One foot went down. The view was all in straight up and down of tall slim trees
Too much alike to mark or name a place by
So as to say for certain I was here
Or somewhere else: I was just far from home.
A small bird flew before me. He was careful
To put a tree between us when he lighted,
And say no word to tell me who he was
Who was so foolish as to think what he thought.
He thought that I was after him for a feather–
The white one in his tail; like one who takes
Everything said as personal to himself.
One flight out sideways would have undeceived him.
And then there was a pile of wood for which
I forgot him and let his little fear
Carry him off the way I might have gone,
Without so much as wishing him good-night.
He went behind it to make his last stand.
It was a cord of maple, cut and split
And piled–and measured, four by four by eight.
And not another like it could I see.
No runner tracks in this year’s snow looped near it.
And it was older sure than this year’s cutting,
Or even last year’s or the year’s before.
The wood was grey and the bark warping off it
And the pile somewhat sunken. Clematis
Had wound strings round and round it like a bundle.
What held it though on one side was a tree
Still growing, and on one a stake and prop,
These latter about to fall. I thought that only
Someone who lived in turning to fresh tasks
Could so forget his handiwork on which
He spent himself, the labour of his axe,
And leave it there far from a useful fireplace
To warm the frozen swamp as best it could
With the slow smokeless burning of decay.

The Gods of the Copybook Headings

This one is about the old and sage advice. it is about empty promises and being sold hope and upliftedness. It echoes and expands upon advice given elsewhere by Kipling on the value of things, and nothing being given for free – see “MacDonough’s Song” about being lured by the loudest throat. It also, in two lines, perfectly encapsulates the misery of the breadlines in the Soviet Union, and the empty store shelves. Though there was “plenty of money” – there was nothing to buy. Keep in mind – the marketplace here, from several references, isn’t just consumer culture, but the “marketplace of ideas”.

Moreso – it is about harsh reality turning around to bite you in the rear, if in a more delayed manner than such things as fire, but with all of the same inevitability.

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!

Posting Will Start Soon

My apologies.

Due to emergencies coming up at work, tax season, and other things that I placed at a higher priority than maintaining this blog, I have not updated for a while.

Posting will resume soon, with some Robert Frost, and Kipling (of course). They are already recorded. and the videos are being cut together.

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