The first time I heard Rudyard Kipling’s poem “IF” was way back in the day when poetry was still part of the English Literature curriculum in the schools. Though young, I was impacted so strongly by it that I voluntarily memorized it, somehow sensing it would be significant.
Years later, I made it part of my own curriculum when Dan and I home-schooled our three children, and my oldest son likewise voluntarily memorized it. As time went on, a major “cast your bread upon the waters for you will find it after many days” moment stunned me when one of our sons– a young teenager at the time–wordlessly handed me back a copy of the poem at a time when he was cognizant for the first time of a tough church situation we were experiencing. I think my eyes teared up.
The poem has continued to give me great perspective over and over. Last week, while looking up a copy of it to give to a friend, I began searching for information on Kipling’s life and character. Not surprisingly, I learned he had experienced some tough hits.
Born in 1865 in Bombay, his parents sent him to England to be cared for by foster parents who, unbeknownst to his parents, treated him with considerable cruelty. Later, in a private boarding school, he was much happier– stubbornly ignoring the teasing because of his thick glasses and studious nature.
At 17, back in India, he became a journalist. At 27, he married an American, Caroline Balestier. He and his wife began raising their family in Vermont until his oldest daughter Josephine died of pneumonia at a young age. In grief (and because of bitter quarreling with his wife’s family) he and Caroline moved the family back to England, but traveled extensively as he continued to write.
Kipling’s only son, John, was killed serving with the Irish Guards in WWI, but Kipling did not acknowledge his son’s death until the end of the war, after which he spent many years unsuccessfully trying to locate his son’s body.
Kipling declined the Poet Laureateship and Order of Merit several times, but accepted the Nobel Prize in 1907, and died in 1936, buried at Westminster Abbey.
Best known as a passionate British Imperialist, there was not much direct information about what really interested me: his faith. But in the process of finding out more about the man, I came across the following poem he had written as a prayer for his beloved home, Britain– and my questions about his faith were answered. I was breathlessly amazed. Once more, Kipling had expressed for me the deepest burden of my heart– this one for my own nation, though my home is not his home. This poem has become my own prayer for America in these difficult days of our history. Though its title is “A Song of the English,” I think it has deep relevance as “A Prayer for America:”
Fair is our lot– O goodly is our heritage!
(Humble ye, my people, and be fearful in your mirth!)
For the Lord our God Most High
He hath made the deep as dry,
He hath smote for us a pathway to the ends of all the Earth!
Yea, though we sinned–and our rulers went from righteousness–
Deep in all dishonour though we stained our garments’ hem.
O be ye not dismayed,
Though we stumbled and we strayed,
We were led by evil counsellors– the Lord shall deal with them!
Hold ye the Faith– the Faith the Fathers sealed us;
Whoring not with visions– overwise and overstale.
Except ye pay the Lord
Single heart and single sword,
Of your children in their bondage shall He ask the treble-bale!
Keep ye the Law– be swift in all obedience–
Clear the land of evil, drive the road and bridge the ford.
Make ye sure to each his own
That he reap where he hath sown;
By the peace among our peoples let men know we serve the Lord!
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