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!
Kipling’s editor said this poem contained “age-old, unfashionable wisdom.” We’re ignoring reality in this country, in favor of free stuff and the promises of more free stuff and “fairness.” Our leadership strives day in and day out to legislate in an increasingly complex world. They struggle to make sense of tragic occurences like bombings, shootings, and wars, and to translate that into the laws of the land. But they’ve lost track of the natural laws and the laws of human nature. We’re wondrously flawed, beautifully crafted creatures and consequently so is what we produce.
Art, beauty, philoosphy, love, civilization. All of these efforts are doomed to ultimate failure, and who cares? Obviously not humanity: we’ve been pushing at our boundaries for millenia, working tirelessly to improve our lot. Along the way we’ve perpetrated the greatest of inhumanities on our fellow human creatures, and built marvelously shining glorious edifices. Babylon, Jerusalem, Beijing, Edo, Athens, Sparta, Carthage, Rome, Samarkand, Memphis, Thebes, Venice, Byzant- I mean, Constantin- I mean, Istanbul, Tenochtitlan, London, Madrid, Paris, Kiev, Moscow, Machu Picchu, Delhi, Alexandria, Ur, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago. Cities unnumbered and unnumberable. We’ve touched the very stars, and delved deep beneath the earth and under the waves. We’ve split the atom, and then turned it on each other. None of it is as magnificent as a baby’s first cry, or the first light of a new dawn as the sun shines just over the distant horizon.
And it will all die. Maybe not now, maybe not for centuries. Rome died, Troy died, Samarkand died screaming. I will die, you will die. Our ancestors back to an odd-looking ape who thought walking upright might have something going for it have all died. Death and taxes, and really only the former.
Our leaders have lost their connection to this truth, though most people of the world live with it every minute of every day. My fears are not starvation, rape, violent murder. My fears are that the choices of those we’ve allowed into power are going to bring those horrors upon an innocent generation.
I expect we’ll wade in blood before I die because we’ve collectively turned our back on the nature of our world, and I sorrow.