Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Poetry for Young People: Rudyard Kipling

Poetry for Young People: Rudyard Kipling

Rudyard Kipling, Edited by Eileen Gillooly
Illustrator:  Jim Sharpe 
Poetry Book
For ages 10 and up
Sterling Publishing Company, 2000   ISBN: 978-0806944845

Many poets develop their own unique form for their poems, creating patterns of rhyme and rhythm that best encapsulate what they want to say. Rudyard Kipling had a different goal. Rather than developing his own style of poetry, he drew on the styles of others, using forms that were familiar and accessible because he wanted to touch the hearts and minds of as many people as possible. He wanted his readers to see the connections we all share, to appreciate that though we speak in different ways and have different backgrounds, we share many of the same experiences and emotions. He wanted to “think in another man’s skin,” so that he could see the world through someone else’s eyes.

In this book we see examples of this in several of the poems. In “The White Seal” we hear the voice of a seal mother singing a lullaby to her baby, and in another section of verse from his Just So Stories, Rudyard Kipling describes what it is like for a child (from the child’s point of view) to be traveling on a ship where all the adults are seasick and the child is temporarily free to do as he or she wishes.

Kipling also used his poems to share his opinions and to explore ideas. In “The beginning of the Armadilloes” we catch the excitement that he feels when he considers travel. How grand it would be to see a jaguar or an armadillo “dilloing in his armour.” How splendid it would be to go to Rio “Some day before I’m old.”

In “The Ballad of East and West” he presents us with the idea that East and West “never the twain shall meet.” Then he goes on to say that that in real life strong men from the east and west can stand “face to face, though they come from the end of the earth!”

What makes this collection of poems so special is that the editor gives us a short biography of Kipling’s life at the beginning of the book and she introduces each of the poems. We therefore can read the poems while being aware of their context. This helps us to understand what kind of a man Kipling was, and what motivated him to write the poems he wrote. As they read, readers will come to appreciate that he was a complex man. He believed strongly in the superiority of the British Empire on the one hand, but he also believed that people from opposite sides of the earth could meet and respect one another. He praised men who went to war for their courage, but wrote a poem about the weapons of war, clearly showing that he is all too aware that such weapons can inflict great suffering, and that their development over the ages has been a singular folly. How interesting it is to explore a poet’s words and his story at the same time.