Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Gods of the Market Place

The most famous Rudyard Kipling poem is probably, “If.”  But this one, “The Gods of the Copybook Headings,” published in 1919, is finding new life in the twenty-first century.  A copybook was, back in the nineteenth century, a tablet given to school children.  It had a motto or bit of wisdom at the top of each page, and the child was to practice his or her handwriting by copying it over and over down the page.  Here are Kipling’s thoughts on the wisdom – and foolishness – of humans:

As I pass through my incarnations in every age and race,
I make my proper prostrations to the Gods of the Market Place.
Peering through reverent fingers I watch them flourish and fall,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings, I notice, outlast them all.

We were living in trees when they met us. They showed us each in turn
That Water would certainly wet us, as Fire would certainly burn:
But we found them lacking in Uplift, Vision and Breadth of Mind,
So we left them to teach the Gorillas while we followed the March of Mankind.

We moved as the Spirit listed. They never altered their pace,
Being neither cloud nor wind-borne like the Gods of the Market Place,
But they always caught up with our progress, and presently word would come
That a tribe had been wiped off its icefield, or the lights had gone out in Rome.

With the Hopes that our World is built on they were utterly out of touch,
They denied that the Moon was Stilton; they denied she was even Dutch;
They denied that Wishes were Horses; they denied that a Pig had Wings;
So we worshipped the Gods of the Market Who promised these beautiful things.

When the Cambrian measures were forming, They promised perpetual peace.
They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.
But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "Stick to the Devil you know."

On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promised the Fuller Life
(Which started by loving our neighbour and ended by loving his wife)
Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "The Wages of Sin is Death."

In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "If you don't work you die."

Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew
And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true
That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more.

As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool's bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;

And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!
                                                    - Rudyard Kipling

The deadline approacheth.  I will send my publisher a book manuscript on July 14, the date it is due – but there will be gaps.  That is, in it, at intervals, will be hasty notes of what is to happen in that space.  Then the story picks up again.  Until the next gap.

It’s a good book, it’s got interesting characters, a solid puzzle, a clever solution that – I hope – satisfies.  The problem is that writing it is taking longer than I thought when I signed the contract.  Mind you, I am not against deadlines; without a deadline, it would take me several years to write what I can write in a year, usually.

Something else missing: a pattern for the back of the book.  It needs to be a knitting pattern, and it should produce a toy animal.  Unfortunately, I am no good at creating knitting patterns.  Do I hear a volunteer?  Contact me via Monica-Ferris.com, and we’ll discuss terms.


Betty Hechtman said...

Monica, I'm dealing with deadlines, too. Interesting idea to leave notes where something is to be added.

I do agree that deadlines definitely make us write faster.

Linda O. Johnston said...

I agree that it's an interesting idea to go ahead and meet a deadline yet still have some stuff left to draft!