The Gods of the Copy Book Heading

Following is a poem by Kipling.

First, you must have some background: A copybook was a mostly blank notebook with a sentence written at the top of the page containing some truth. Students would practice their penmanship by writing it many times on the page.

This poem is about two competing idea. The Gods of the Copybook Heading is the philosophy that some things are eternal, true and cannot be changed. The Gods of the Market Place is the philosophy that there are no absolutes and we can do what is popular and convenient. Stilton is a type of cheese. That women could not have children is a reference to chlamydia. That men lost reason is a reference to syphilis.

The whole poem is relevant to our world.

The Gods of the Copybook Headings by Kipling

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!

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About erharoldsen

Information about Family Life, Family History, Humor, Emergency Response, Disaster Preparation, Latter-day Saint Religion (Mormon) and other stuff that tickles me. Contact me through erharoldsen at yahoo.com. But use the @ symbol. (This helps me avoid spam.)
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One Response to The Gods of the Copy Book Heading

  1. Chuck says:

    Amen, Kipling, amen. It stuns me often, that people with PhDs and JDs have never turned around to look back in history, nor can they see further in front of them than the next fluff of pleasure. I’ve even known engineers and analysts who never applied their skills to life, the Universe or anything enduring. Indeed, education these days seems mostly Parties and Party Lines. Alas. As a student of Psychology, that puzzles me. – Chuck

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