According to a recent Guardian article, American scholar Thomas Pinney found fifty lost Kipling poems in old family papers, and during a renovation of a Manhattan property. Perhaps we’ve never seen these writings because of Kipling’s irritation with media-hounding, revealed in an excerpt from one of the lost poems entitled, “The Press”:
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?
Tell it to the papers,
Tell it every day.
But, en passant, may I ask
Why don’t you write a play?
Or maybe these verses remained unseen for a hundred years because some of the poems reveal Kipling’s pain. He deeply regretted his support of World War I and his encouragement of his son to join the fight. After his son’s death, Kipling wrote “Epitaphs of the War,” offering the poignant confession, “If any question why we died / Tell them, because our fathers lied.”
Indeed these themes depart radically from the Kipling you might recall from childhood, alive in the story of “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi.” Or maybe you know the author for his famous poem “If,” which begins, If you can keep your head when all about you/Are losing theirs and blaming it on you.
Kipling, born in 1865 in India, to British parents, has been both celebrated–he earned the first Nobel prize in literature given to a British author–and denigrated–George Orwell called him a “prophet of British Imperialism.” Whatever your views, he remains a prolific and readable storyteller. Some believe the simplicity of his writing led to scholars overlooking his talent as time wore on. Others believe his political stance stained his reception.
Of the lost poems, Linda Bree, arts and literature director at Cambridge University Press, says, “They are all very engaging, and grab you immediately. A lot are very emotional little poems about the war, about his great identification with the ordinary British soldier, and his anger with the authorities.”