February 27, 2013

Trove of previously unpublished Kipling poems discovered


Rudyard Kipling

Fifty previously unpublished poems by Rudyard Kipling have been discovered by an American academic named Thomas Pinney, according to a Guardian report by Alison Flood. Ranging from politically motivated war poetry to lighter comic fare, the collection of poems will be published for the first time this March as part of Cambridge University Press’s The Poems of Rudyard Kipling.

Pinney found the previously unknown poems in archives, family papers, and a Manhattan home. He’s eager for more of the author’s work to be discovered and studied, because Kipling has been somewhat dismissed in academia, due to his reputation as a supporter of British imperialism, particularly in India; George Orwell even called him “the prophet of British imperialism” in an essay.

But Pinney insists that Kipling’s work is still significant, saying,

His texts have never properly been studied but things are starting to change. There is a treasure trove of uncollected, unpublished and unidentified work out there. I discovered another unrecorded item only recently and that sort of thing will keep happening. It is a tremendously exciting time for scholars and for fans of Kipling.

Some of the newly unearthed poems show a shift in Kipling’s attitude towards World War I—a war he had enthusiastically supported it early on, but became disillusioned with after his son died in the Battle of Loos. The poem “Epitaphs of War” includes the lines, “If any question why we died / Tell them, because our fathers lied.”

Some of the other poems that will finally see the light of day, per the Guardian, include “The Press,” a prescient indictment of intrusive journalists, and comedic works he wrote to entertain fellow passengers during a sailing voyage.

Linda Bree, an editorial director at Cambridge University Press, says she’s happy to be able to include Kipling’s unknown poetry in the new edition of his work. She praised its accessibility, saying that that quality is part of the reason Kipling hasn’t garnered much serious attention:

I think, personally, it’s because his poems are very simple. They are about simple situations, and perhaps for that reason scholars have steered clear a little. Perhaps they speak more clearly to the ordinary reader for that reason. And of course the imperial issue does make things more difficult. [But] he is one of the nation’s greatest poets … ‘If’ is one of the most popular poems in the English language, [and] this edition shows that he wrote much else to entertain, engage and challenge readers.

Cambridge’s The Poems of Rudyard Kipling will be out (in three volumes) on March 7, and the Guardian includes the full text of one of the long-lost poems, “The Press,” in Flood’s article abou the discovery.


Nick Davies was a publicist at Melville House.