Literature Week 27 The Gods of the Copybook Headings

Prompt: What is one of Kipling’s copybook headings that applies to recent public opinion.

Kipling’s poem The Gods of the Copybook Headings is from the point of view of a seemingly immortal narrator. He says that through every incarnation he watches, and he sees that the Gods of the Marketplace (dishonest or selfish public opinion) are weak and fleeting. The Gods of the Copybook Headings (age old wisdom’s that were printed upon students textbooks throughout the 19th century) by contrast never seem to weaken. “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.” Humans are creatures of convenience, and as we evolve we tend to choose the belief that personally benefits us most. We ignore the impersonal offerings of wisdom and truth, finding them “lacking in uplift, vision and breadth of mind”, and often prefer the unrealistic and idealistic fantasies of societal inter-meshing. “We moved as the spirits listed. They never altered their pace, Being neither cloud nor wind-born like the Gods of the Marketplace.” We resist the more strenuous, yet ultimately more beneficial path to pursue the “cloud or wind-born” easy and commonly fashionable way instead. But the hard truth never alters its pace, and we are simply running on a never-ending philosophical treadmill, ultimately making the process more difficult on ourselves than if we just bit the bullet and accepted the Gods of the Copybook Headings. “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 worshiped the Gods of the Market Who promised such beautiful things.” We yearn for knowledge, wishing for the secrets of the universe. This desperation leads to us to deny any and all fantasy to pursue the most newly discovered marketplace science. We forget the magic of old, and give ourselves over to the scientific trends of the present.

“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.” This passage is as applicable to recent public opinion as it is realistically disturbing. Everyone wants peace, but there is no one mystical being with the intellect necessary to deliver us this peace. We grasp for straws, looking for anyone else who can more adequately solve our problems for us. As modern history has shown us, strict gun control has become a trendy way of delivering “peace”. Limiting everyone from bearing arms in theory stops any and all gun violence. The problem with this is: if someone wants something, its very difficult to stop the market from delivering. This creates the scenario where a violent person finds a way to get a hold of a weapon, while the innocent casualties have no way whatsoever to defend themselves. We are disarmed, and delivered bound to our foes.

“On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promised a fuller life (Which started by loving our neighbor and ended by loving his wife) Til our women had no more children and the men had lost reason and faith, and the Gods of the Copybook Heading said: The Wages of Sin is Death.” This passage gives a glance into what would happen if we were consumed by our own self interest. This “fuller life” seems to be one taken over by sin and forgotten by familiar instinct. Children stop being born, men forget kindness. We think only of our own pleasure, and the human race collectively meets with 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.” This passage is an honest metaphor for our modern economical society. Whether in a capitalistic, socialistic, or even communistic society when one is taxed to pay for another’s well-being this slave mentality of “If you don’t work you die” becomes common place in the subconscious of the civilians.

“As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man, There are only four things that are 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 wobbling 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.” I can’t express enough how much I admire this poem. It describes the mob mentality and evolutionary circles of mankind today just as well as it described people back in Kipling’s time. As we try to improve ourselves and our society, as we move forward into a “brave new world”, we mustn’t forget the age old wisdom of the past. Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it, and if we can’t learn the lessons from the suffering of the past we ourselves shall be doomed to endure that same suffering. We must protect ourselves and our families, we must protect our faith in helping ones neighbor and deter ourselves from the mindless pleasure of the flesh, we mustn’t expect anyone besides ourselves to pay for our worldly sins. Strict self responsibility, both for the individual and the collective organized government, is the only way to not repeat painful lessons of the past. We must move into the future equipped with the virtuous lessons of the past, this is the only way we can truly and permanently evolve our society.

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