Rudyard Kipling

R udyard Kipling was an incredibly popular writer during his lifetime and for the years following his death. But, his reputation has suffered over recent decades due to readers’ perception of him as a thoughtless imperialist. Today, although some of his poems and stories are contentious, many readers still enjoy his most famous works such as Gunga Din,’ Mandalay,’ and The Jungle Book. 

Rudyard Kipling


Life Facts

  • Rudyard Kipling was born in Bombay, India in December of 1865. 
  • In 1886, Kipling published his first collection titled, “Departmental Ditties.”
  • In the early 1900s, the Kiplings bought an estate in Sussex known as Bateman’s.
  • Kipling’s son John died in France in 1915.
  • He developed an ulcer that eventually led him to take his own life in January of 1936.

Interesting Facts

  • “Wee Willie Winkie” and “American Notes” were published in the late 1880s and early 1890s.
  • Kipling’s best-known book is “The Jungle Book.” 
  • After marrying, Kipling and his wife traveled to Canada and Japan.
  • Over the last two decades of his life, he stopped writing literature for children and suffered from health issues.
  • His ashes are interred at Westminster Abbey in Poet’s Corner. 


Famous Poems by Rudyard Kipling

The Gods of Copybook Headings discusses, through the metaphor of a copybook, the malevolent nature of progress and humanity’s eventual return to basic principles of a good life. Kipling depicts the copybook headings as proven moral points. These are beliefs that humanity returns to again and again. Even when people drift away from the copybook headings, they’re still close to one’s mind. The headings reassert themselves, and the cycle begins again. 

 

Gunga Din’ is told from the perceptive of an English soldier in India. The soldier describes Gunga Din, a water carrier who saves the soldier’s life in battle. Despite his hard work and kindness, Gunga Din is treated terribly by the Englishmen he serves with. He dies after saving the speaker’s life. The soldier concludes that Gunga Din was a far better man than he was. 

 

If  is without a doubt Kipling’s most famous poem. It is filled with advice from a  father to his son about how to live his life. The “then” portion complements the “If” portion of the poem. A solution follows every scenario. If a reader does, as the speaker has suggested, he declares that they will be set to conquer the world and become a “Man.” 

 

‘The Glory of the Garden’ is about English gardens and the need to create a perfect space. The poem extolls hard work over laziness and expands the “garden” to include all of England. Throughout, the poet makes sure to emphasize all the hard work that went into it. This is seen through the “tool-and-potting sheds” and “barrows and the planks.” 

 

The Ballad of East and West’ speaks on the life of an Afghan warrior and raider, Kamal. In particular, a series of events in which he takes a horse from an English colonel. The complex story includes various perspectives as the Colonel’s son seeks out Kamal. Kamal tries to reason with the son, telling him that he should not risk his life over a horse. Eventually, the horse returns to the owner of its own accord, and the Colonel’s son gives Kamal a pistol. 

 


Early Life

Rudyard Kipling was born in Bombay, India, in December of 1865. His parents were Alice Kipling and John Lockwood Kipling. His father worked as an artist and Principal and Professor of Architectural Sculpture at Sir Jamsetjee Jeejebhoy School of Art in Bombay.

 

 The couple had moved to India in 1865 after marrying in Staffordshire, England. As a child, Kipling was close to his mother and his younger sister, Alice. The siblings would spend time exploring the markets of Bombay and were exposed to various cultures and ways of life. When he was six years old, he was sent to England to receive a proper education. He lived with a foster family, the matriarch of which was a brutal and cruel woman. She was unkind to the young boy and often beat him. 

 

During this difficult period of his life, he found temporary relief in the books he came into contact with. These included the work of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Wilkie Collins. At eleven years old, due to his living conditions, he was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. His mother was informed, and she removed him from the household and placed him in a school in Devon. It was there that he first discovered his writing talent. He would eventually find work with the school newspaper. 

 

It was in 1882 that Kipling returned to India. He was deeply moved by this change in his circumstances and made his home in Lahore. Kipling worked for a local newspaper while spending his free time exploring the city. In 1886, Kipling published his first collection titled, Departmental Ditties and began contributing short stories to the Civil and Military Gazette. 


Literary Career

Throughout the later months of 1886 and the early months of 1887, around thirty-nine stories appeared in the newspaper. A number of these were compiled in Plain Tales from the Hills in 1888. It was his first prose collection and was published when he was 22. Over the next year, he journeyed back to England with the hopes of working off the successes of his previous publications. 

His next collections, Wee Willie Winkie and American Notes, were published in the late 1880s and early 1890s. These volumes were inspired by the time he spent in America alongside his friend Wolcott Balestier. It was in 1891 that Kipling grew close with Balestier’s sister, Carrie. The two married soon after Balestier’s death from typhoid fever. 

After marrying, Kipling and his wife traveled to Canada and Japan. It was during these years that Kipling lost his entire fortune due to the failure of his bank. The young couple moved to Brattleboro and settled down in a small, economical cottage. It was here that they had their first child, Josephine. She was followed by Elsie and later, John, born in 1897 after the couple moved to Devon. 


Literary Successes and Personal Tragedies

It was also around this time period that Kipling published his best-known work, The Jungle Book. This novel, along with its sequel, was produced alongside several volumes of poetry and another collection of short stories in a four year period. The works, The Jungle Book and The Second Jungle Book were extremely popular with children, which deeply pleased Kipling.

 

In 1899, after a disastrous journey back to the United States for a visit with Carrie’s parents, their daughter Josephine died of pneumonia. Kipling had contracted the illness and was spared from the news of her death until he had recovered. He was never the same again.

 

During the following years, Kipling published the popular novel Kim, and the Kiplings could buy an estate in Sussex known as Bateman’s. In the same year, the Kiplings purchased the estate that Rudyard published Just So Stories, another work received well by the public. 


Later Life and Death

In the early years of the first world war, Kipling traveled to France to report on activity from the trenches. He also helped his son John in his quest to enlist in the army. He had been turned down several times due to problems with his eyesight. John Kipling eventually became a member of the Irish Guard and went missing in October of 1915. Kipling searched for his son in France but never recovered his body. 

 

The death of a second child proved to be the beginning of a darker period of time for Kipling. Over the last two decades of his life, he stopped writing literature for children and suffered from health issues. He had developed an ulcer, which eventually caused him to take his own life in January of 1936. His ashes were buried at Westminster Abbey in Poet’s Corner. 


Influence from other Writers

Rudyard Kipling was notably influenced by writers such as Robert Armitage Sterndale, Robert Louis Stevenson, and H. Rider Haggard.


Poems by Rudyard Kipling

Explore poetry by Rudyard Kipling below, analyzed by the team at Poem Analysis.

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