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A New Collection Shines Light Rudyard Kipling, the Poet

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Cambridge University Press is releasing a new, three-volume anthology of Rudyard Kipling's poetry this month. The "complete" collection features 550 previously uncollected poems and more than 50 previously unpublished poems that editor Thomas Pinney -- an English professor at California's Pomona College -- discovered stashed in private collections throughout the world.

Kipling is probably best known here in the States as the author of The Jungle Book, Kim and Captains Courageous, but he was also a prolific and accomplished poet. You may have read his most-quoted poem, "If," which concludes with the stanza:

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings--nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And -- which is more -- you'll be a Man, my son!

Though he was a Nobel Laureate, Kipling is a controversial figure in the literary world. He was a strong voice for colonialism and the British Empire -- at times, from a contemporary perspective, shockingly so. He was, less controversially, a voice for the common soldier. He wrote "The Absent-Minded Beggar" to raise money for troops in fighting in the Boer War in South Africa. Here's an excerpt:

WHEN you've shouted "Rule Britannia," when you've sung "God save the Queen,"
When you've finished killing Kruger with your mouth,
Will you kindly drop a shilling in my little tambourine
For a gentleman in khaki ordered South?
He's an absent-minded beggar, and his weaknesses are great--
But we and Paul must take him as we find him--
He is out on active service, wiping something off a slate
And he's left a lot of little things behind him!
Duke's son--cook's son - son of a hundred kings
(Fifty thousand horse and foot going to Table Bay!)
Each of 'em doing his country's work
(and who's to look after their things?)
Pass the hat for your credit's sake,
and pay--pay--pay !

It will be interesting to see how the new poems add to our knowledge of Kipling. The Guardian recently gave us a first taste, printing an unpublished poem called "The Press" in which Kipling grumbles about the questions fired at him by the media. It begins with the lines,

Why don't you write a play -
Why don't you cut your hair?
Do you trim your toe-nails round  
Or do you trim them square?

Kipling fans will have to wait for the anthology to see the rest. And they'll certainly have to "pay--pay--pay!" The collection runs almost $300.