There’s always something to howl about

There are Only Four Things Certain Since Social Progress Began

(alternatively entitled – with all due apologies)
Though I’ve Belted You and Flayed You, By the Livin’ Gawd That Made You;
You’ve Made a Worser Man of Me, Socialism


“And a woman is only a woman, but a good cigar is a smoke”  (from The Betrothed).  I have loved Rudyard Kipling from the very first time I read Gunga Din.  His pace and pattern appeal to me, as does his archaic sense of manhood.  I have argued before, and dare say would do so again quite successfully, that his poem If  is among the finest pieces ever written in the English language.  Of all the inspirational articles I have written and the many orations I have given, much time could have been saved had I simply gone in, recited If and walked out.  If you have never read it, stop what you are doing now and do so.  The answer to just about every event you may encounter in your life is contained in that poem.

This post, however, is not about Kipling’s great work If.  (If it were, I would certainly link to my own, real estate based homage to wisdom, and I’ve done no such thing.)  No, this post is about another poem Kipling wrote, one I am chagrined to admit I only recently discovered.  More mortifying still, I discovered it only because Glenn Beck is using a couple of lines from this poem to plug a new book of his.  (I’m not denigrating Mr. Beck, only lamenting the discovery of fine art through it’s crass commercialization.)

The poem refers to Copybook Headings and I was unsure what those were.  For the one or two of you out there as simple as I am, copybooks were primers used by school children to perfect their penmanship.  Across the top of each page was written a Biblical passage or similar lesson of moral imperative.  The children would copy the line over and over on the page below, thus improving their cursive and at the same internalizing certain truths.  Truths that, according to Mr. Kipling, are forgotten at our own peril.

Printed below in its entirety, this poem was written almost 100 years ago.  But you’d be amazed how little has changed in the theater of the absurd we call politics.  Mr. Obama and the Neo-Pros who share his religion are fairly called out in these words, but then so are we…

The Gods of the Copybook Headings

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!


2 Comments so far

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  2. Mark Jacobs June 24th, 2010 9:42 am

    Great Post, loved the information. Keep up the good work