Matt`s lecture for the large group on Housman and Kipling


Matt`s lecture for the large group on Housman and Kipling
Matthew DeCoursey
Introduction to Literary Studies II
• William Blake earliest (1757-1827). He was a
lone Romantic in a neo-classical world for much
of his life.
• Charlotte Bronte (1816-1855) was born when
Blake was 49. He died when she was 11.
• Housman, Kipling and Yeats were all of the
same generation. Housman was born in 1859,
shortly after Bronte’s death. Yeats and Kipling
were born 6 years later.
• Housman, Kipling and Yeats lived in the
time of the greatest power of the British
Empire. Kipling loved the Empire and
Yeats hated it. Housman seems not to
have cared.
“Loveliest of Trees”
• I’m going to look at this poem by way of
reminding you about poetry.
• This poem is a very fine example of
symbolism, on a very traditional theme.
An Unhappy Truth
We are born to die
There is much poetry about this
The Bird of Time has but a little way to flutter …
And the Bird is on the Wing.
Photo by M. Geven at
Therefore what?
• Live a holy life, and go to heaven when
you die.
• Plan for future generations, leave the
world better than you found it, or
• “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you
may die.”
A little language prep
• “Score” is an old word meaning “twenty.”
• It was current when the King James translation
of the Bible was written, in Shakespeare’s
• “The days of our years are threescore years and
ten.” (Psalm 90, verse 10)
• 3 x 20 +10 = 70
• The traditional number for the length of a human
• Also: “tide” for “time” as in “Eastertide”
Cherry trees
• Cherry trees have very beautiful flowers,
either white or pink. The ones in this poem
are white.
• Cherry trees bloom in the spring, for two
weeks or even less, then the flowers fall
off them.
• Put cherry trees together with the idea that
life is short, and what do you get?
Loveliest of trees, the cherry now…
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland
Wearing white for Eastertide.
Now, of my threescore years and
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a
It only leaves me fifty more.
And since to look at things in bloom,
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodland I will go
To see the cherry
hung with snow
This poem shows….
• The double images are important to the
poem’s effect. You think of two things at
once. The poem turns the image of the
cherry tree around and around, making it
mean something complicated and
• The three-stanza form is perfect. The
impact of the poem depends on that
The Form
• 3 parts to the form, 3 parts to the meaning.
– It’s spring, and life is good
– But life is short, and we must die
– Therefore love beauty, love the world, since
winter is coming
• This summary makes a very flat poem.
The summary is not the poem, but only a
way of understanding the poem.
• Read it again.
• Kipling was an imperialist. He believed in
the British Empire.
• He could be negative about people of
other races, and he certainly thought, as
many people did—as Jane Eyre did—that
the English had a civilizing mission.
Kipling’s reputation
• Even before he died, Kipling’s imperialism
looked old-fashioned.
• W.H. Auden wrote in “In Memory of W.B.
Yeats” that
Worships language and forgives
Everyone by whom it lives;
Pardons cowardice, conceit,
Lays its honours at their feet.
Time that with this strange excuse
Pardoned Kipling and his views,
And will pardon Paul Claudel,
Pardons him for writing well.
W.H. Auden, 1939
“The White Man’s Burden”
• This is the poem that has done most to destroy
Kipling’s reputation as a serious writer.
• “Half devil and half child” is the most famous
phrase in the poem, because the most offensive.
• "Why brought he us from bondage,
Our loved Egyptian night?“ The reference is to
the Bible. Israelites to Moses. (Exodus 16:3)
“The Road to Mandalay”
• Mandalay is in Burma (Myanmar).
• The speaker is a British soldier who fell in
love with a Burmese girl, but finally went
back to England.
• Once in England, he is sorry he ever
returned. He says Burma is a “cleaner,
greener land.”
• He thinks English women are not as good
as Burmese.
If you've 'eard the East a-callin', you
won't never 'eed naught else."
No! you won't 'eed nothin' else
But them spicy garlic smells”
English food is famously bad. That’s why English
people eat so much Indian and Chinese food.
This is also a symbol: life in England is tasteless.
It’s better to be where tastes are strong.
• The poem is hard to read because it’s
written in the dialect of a working-class
London man.
• -in’ for –ing “a-smokin’” (“a” means nothing)
• Dropped h. “’eard” for “heard”
• Some altered vowels: “yaller” for “yellow,”
“settin’” for “sitting,” “stud” for “stood,” “fur”
for “far.”
“an’” for “and”
“o’” for “of”
Some vocabulary: “cheroot” for “cigar”
“Bloomin’” is meaningless. “Plucky” seems
to stand in for a bad word, which perhaps
you know.
A final note
Mandalay is a real place. If you’ve been
watching the news lately, you’ve heard
about it, because Buddhist monks there
are resisting the government.
It is nowhere near China, and since it’s
inland, it doesn’t have a bay. You can get
there by boat from Rangoon, though,
along a river.