As I’m not yet organized as a blog I’m going to post a little known poem by Rudyard Kipling. It is a late poem, as it is not in my complete version of his works from 1885 to 1918 (as published in 1921 by Doubleday, Page and Co. – and labeled with the swastica logo that was then an innocuous Indian graphic as well as a form of the Greek key).
I pulled this poem from the pages of a paperback and taped into the inside cover of my Kipling book, which might be a valuable early edition were the covers not falling off – the stamped swastica on the cover, and the red swastica on the title page indicate that it was printed long before the misuse of that simple figure by Nazi Germany. I am often saddened by the way that graphics used for centuries can become symbols of evil when they are used evilly for a short period of time. But let me proceed to the poem.
Harp Song of the Dane Women
What is a woman that you forsake her, And the hearth-fire and the home-acre, To go with the old grey Widow-maker?
She has no house to lay a guest in – But one chill bed for all to rest in, That the pale suns and the stray bergs nest in.
She has no strong white arms to fold you, But the ten-times-fingering weed to hold you – Out on the rocks where the tide has rolled you.
Yet when the signs of summer thicken, And the ice breaks, and the birch-buds quicken, Yearly you turn from our side, and sicken –
Sicken again for the shouts and the slaughters, You steal away to the lapping waters, And look at your ship in her winter-quarters.
You forget our mirth, and talk at the tables, The kine in the shed and the horse in the stables – To pitch her sides and go over her cables.
Then you drive out where the storm-clouds swallow, And the sound of your oar-blades, fallin hollow, Is all we have left through the months to follow.
Ah, what is Woman that you forsake her, And the hearth-fire and the home-acre, To go with the old grey Widow-maker?
I intend no meaning in posting this, I just felt like it. One could say that Kipling is speaking of a natural division of roles – man as a necessary hunter and woman as a necessary keeper of the home. One could also say that he is speaking of a foolishness on the part of the men, to choose adventure, hardship and risk over an available life of farm and husbandry. Or one could say that he speaks of a frailty of woman to not understand the needs for risk to perpetuate the living of the community. Is he denigrating either role? I don’t think so. I think he wrote it as I read it, a poignant description of life in a time and place.
Enough analysis, it is enough to post a Kipling poem that is not widely read – and doesn’t fit with the general view of his works.