Gunga Din and Other Favorite Poems by Rudyard Kipling is a collection of 44 of his poems, organized by the collection in which they had originally been published, from 1886 though 1912. In it are his well-known pieces such as the title poem, “The White Man's Burden” and “The Female of the Species”, all of which are certainly a window into another time … no doubt one viewed with dismay bordering on horror by those of the “politically correct” stripe. These are poems written at the height of the British Empire, and crafted to speak to the English of the age. One aspect of this I really hadn't expected (although, had I recalled more of Gunga Din, I would have), was his use of “colloquial voices”, imitating the patois of the British common man, or more usually, common soldier. An example of this comes from “The 'Eathen”:
A significant portion of these poems are written in this mode, no doubt increasing their popularity at the time, but making their impact a bit muddled today, unless read out loud!The young recruit is 'appy – 'e throws his chest to suit;
You see 'im grow mustaches; you 'ear 'im slap 'is boot;
'E learns to drop the “bloodies” from every word he slings,
An 'e shows an 'ealthy brisket when 'e strips for bars an' rings.
Not all these are about the adventures of Empire, many are simply about the human condition, in various states. This part of the poem “Tomlinson”, about a man too bad for Hell, particularly grabbed me both for its crafting and for its cosmology:
Anyway, Gunga Din was an interesting trip into late Victorian English life, and especially into the far-flung outposts of the British Empire and the “grunts” who made sure the sun didn't set on the Union Jack.The Spirit gripped him by the hair, and sun by sun they fell
Till they came to the belt of Naughty Stars that rim the mouth of Hell:
The first are red with pride and wrath, the next are white with pain,
But the third are black with clinkered sin that cannot burn again:
They may hold their path, they may leave their path, with never a soul to mark,
They may burn or freeze, but they must not cease in the Scorn of the Outer Dark.
The Wind that blows between the worlds, it nipped him to the bone,
And he yearned to the flare of Hell-gate there as the light of his own hearth-stone.
The Devil he sat behind the bars, where the desperate legions drew,
But he caught the hasting Tomlinson and would not let him through.
As noted above, this is a Dover Thrift book, with a whopping $2.00 cover price. It is unlikely, given the slim mark-up on such a book, that you'll find it at your local brick-and-mortar book seller, but it is one of those things handy to have ready to push an on-line order into the free-shipping promised land!